A wry and witty commentary on college sports and identity in the complicated social landscape of the South.
Ed Southern, lifelong fan of the Wake Forest University Demon Deacons, the smallest school in the NCAA's Power 5, set out to tell the story of how he got tangled, in vines of history and happenstance, with the two giants of his favorite sport: the Crimson Tide and the Clemson Tigers. He set out to tell how a North Carolina native crossed the shifty, unmarked border between Tobacco Road and the Deep South. He set out to tell how the legendary Paul “Bear” Bryant, from beyond the grave, introduced him to his wife, a Birmingham native and die-hard Alabama fan.
While he was writing that story, though, 2020 came along.
Suddenly his questions had a new and urgent focus: Why do sports mean so much that so many will play and watch them in the face of a global pandemic? How have the South’s histories shaped its fervor for college sports? How have college sports shaped how southerners construct their identities, priorities, and allegiances? Why is North Carolina passionate about college basketball when its neighbors to the South live and die by college football? Does this have anything to do with North Carolina’s reputation as the most “progressive” southern state, a state many in the Deep South don't think is “really” southern? If college sports really do mean so much in the South, then why didn’t everyone down south wear masks or recognize that Black Lives Matter, even after the coaches told us to?
Fight Songs explores the connections and contradictions between the teams we root for and the places we plant our roots; between the virtues that sports are supposed to teach and the cutthroat business they've become; between the hopes of fans and the demands of the past, present, and future.
“What began as a pure and simple love story that flowered from the storied traditions of college football became, thanks to the pandemic, a more clear-eyed examination of college sports in the South and how it helps define or reinforce what it means to be Southern. Ed Southern’s fourth book … is indeed still a love story with parts history, expose, and admonishment. A lifelong fan of the Wake Forest Demon Deacons, Southern’s name is as coincidental as his meld and marriage into Alabama football. From and of the South, the author begs the question: is the behemoth that is college sports strong enough to move the country past the vestiges of the South’s ‘peculiar sin?’”—Janyce Rucker Wardlaw for the Southern Review of Books
"You’ll never look at college sports the same way."—Karin Gillespie, for the Augusta Chronicle
"This book is about so much: the South, love, history, and how sports define, degrade, refine, and redeem us. Holding this gumbo of ideas together is—what else?—football. Fight Songs is epic, how tailgating with Friedrich Nietzsche would be epic. I’m really glad this book is in the world."—Daniel Wallace, Extraordinary Adventures and Big Fish
"I promise that you have never read a book that so beautifully and intimately reveals the soul at the center of sports fandom—that understands so fully what it means to root.
Fight Songs is a book about love and history and culture. Its truths are arrived at honestly and without pretense and it is, quite simply, one of the greatest sports books you will ever read."—Travis Mulhauser, Sweetgirl
"A lush, meditative look at how sports and the places we call home are just as flawed and beautiful as we are, and how one is always defining the other. Damn fine writing!"—Jason Mott, National Book Award-winning author of Hell of a Book and The Returned