The Oregon State University Sesquicentennial Oral History Project

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Michael Oriard Oral History Interviews

Two life history interviews conducted by Chris Petersen.

March 2015


“A Scholar in the Locker Room”  March 17, 2015  Location: Valley Library, Oregon State University.  Watch Video | Download Transcript (PDF)

The primary emphases of interview 1 are Oriard's experiences as a student athlete and as a professional football player. In tracing this period of his life, Oriard discusses his family background, his upbringing in Spokane, and his earliest involvement in football. He also recalls his love of literature growing up, and his particular interest in modern American fiction writers. He then describes his high school experience as a student athlete and shares his thoughts on the allure of football to those who play it.

From there, Oriard recounts his recruitment out of high school, and his ultimate decision to attend the University of Notre Dame and to walk on to the school's football team. In discussing Notre Dame, Oriard reflects on the cultural environment at the university in the mid- to late-1960s. He also describes his experiences as a member of the freshman football team, a year during which Notre Dame won the national championship in football while he and all other freshmen were not eligible to play. Oriard also speaks to the training and support system available to football players during his years at Notre Dame, his academic progression from Physics to English, his social experience as a student athlete, and the evolution of his college career as a football player, during which he advanced from a walk-on to a team co-captain and an All American.

Oriard next reflects on his decision to pursue a dual career as a professional football player and an academic. In this, he recalls his graduate school years at the University Washington and Stanford University. He also notes his NFL experiences as an offensive lineman with the Kansas City Chiefs, the injuries that brought about the end of his NFL career, and the short period of time that he spent playing in Canada before completely retiring from professional football.

Near its end, the interview changes focus to Oriard's initial years at Oregon State University. He recalls his decision to take a faculty position in the OSU English department, his perceptions of the department and the university at that time, and his early research and writing, including a memoir. He also describes his scholarly work habits and his experiences as a teacher, including two academic exchanges in Germany.

“Cultural Historian of Football”  March 31, 2015  Location: Valley Library, Oregon State University.  Watch Video | Download Transcript (PDF)

Interview 2 focuses more intently on Oriard's association with OSU, as well as his thoughts on the contemporary status of football and its future in the United States. The session begins with Oriard's recollections of the impact that was made on OSU by the Ballot Measure 5 property tax limitation initiative, and the role that University Provost Graham Spanier played in boosting the liberal arts at Oregon State. From there Oriard discusses the process by which he shaped his scholarship toward historical work, including his studies of historic newspapers, magazines, film and radio. He then recounts a period of great scholarly productivity in the early 1990s, including his publication of two books, and describes the way in which his profile rose as an expert on football.

Oriard next shares his memories of his tenure as President of the OSU Faculty Senate, followed by his move into administration as Associate Dean of the College of Liberal Arts. He likewise notes the continuation of his research during this time and his publication of two more books, Brand NFL and Bowled Over.

The final phase of the interview is primarily devoted to the fragile status of football in 2015. Oriard speaks to the explosion of emphasis on college football in Oregon and beyond that has occurred in recent decades. He then addresses the issue of head trauma and the threat that it poses to the future of football. He shares his thoughts on the economic implications that a decline in the popularity of football would pose to the finances of university athletic departments, and the further implications that this decline would portend for racial and gender equity in college athletics. Oriard also describes the extent to which his research and writing on football has impacted his ability to be a fan of sport.

The session concludes with Oriard revealing a few details about his next project, one that focuses on historic color illustrations of football. He also lends his thoughts on the current direction of OSU, and outlines the need to further bolster the liberal arts at the institution.