Johanna Mellis

Special guest

Dr. Mellis is a teacher-scholar who blends together her pedagogy, research, and public scholarship. She believes that for people comfortable enough to do so, sharing what we have learned and researched with public audiences is a necessity to create better informed societies that resist traditional, discriminatory structures and attitudes that aim to harm people. The College recently acknowledge her blending of research and public scholarship as making her one of multiple ‘game changers’ in its 2020-2021 Annual Report.

Her primary teaching goal is to help students develop their capacity to become global citizens by finding ways to connect to individuals’ stories in the past. Only through deep contextualization - including showing historical empathy and accountability for past actors - can students truly understand the necessity of valuing and incorporating people’s perspectives all over the world. Dr. Mellis uses three lenses in her classes to achieve this goal: oral history (interviews), public history, and sport history. Listening to people’s voices, studying how and why people remember, and engaging with the community about historical topics - the hallmarks of oral and public history - form the foundation for students’ livelong engagement with histories and communities around the world.

Dr. Mellis was a D1 swimmer at the College of Charleston from 2004-2008 and co-captain of the team from 2006-2008. She was the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) conference champion in the 400 Individual Medley in 2006, and a bronze medalist that year in the 200 butterfly. She later coached at High Tide Aquatics and Gator Swim Club in Gainesville, FL while getting her MA and PhD at the University of Florida.

Dr. Mellis’s research focuses on Cold War sport. Her manuscript, Changing the Global Game: Hungarian Athletes and International Sport During the Cold War, examines Hungarian sportspeople’s interactions with the International Olympic Committee from 1948-1989. Changing the Global Game shows how Hungarian athletes, Socialist Hungarian state sport officials, and the IOC gradually realized by the 1960s that sporting cooperation with one another - and not East-West political clashes nor resistance - was the way to achieve their respective aims of sport success, career and financial stability, and political and institutional strength. Hungarian athletes were not the doped-up victims nor wily resistors that we typically think of (think of Rocky IV and East German swimmers), but creative individuals who could gain success and financial stability by cooperating with the state. To keep athletes happy - keep them from defecting to the West, like over 300 Hungarian athletes did after the 1956 Revolution - socialist states like Hungary geopolitically situated between the USSR and GDR used what I call Middle Bloc diplomacy to cooperate with the IOC to shape the organization’s policies to meet their ends. Yet Middle Bloc diplomacy also required Socialist Hungary to contribute to the IOC’s cultural imperialism over the forms of sport and sporting rules that people used all over the world. Socialist Hungary did this by supporting the IOC’s Amateur Rule against athletes in capitalist countries. By reinforcing the IOC’s ban against Olympic athletes monetizing their labor through endorsement deals, Socialist Hungary helped the IOC’s imperialist, discriminatory rule against working class athletes in capitalist societies worldwide.

Dr. Mellis is also a cohost of the End of Sport podcast with Drs. Nathan Kalman-Lamb and Derek Silva. They interview athletes, critical sports journalists, and fellow academics to explore all the ways that people use sport to harm others - i.e. through racist mascotry, the NCAA and higher ed’s exploitation of Black and Brown college athletic workers, sexual abuse and harassment, transphobia, and more.

Through the End of Sport, she has co-authored pieces for public outlets such as The Chronicle of Higher Ed, The Guardian, Time, The Baffler, and more. She also has sole-authored pieces with The Washington Post and Arizona State University’s Global Sport Matters.

Johanna Mellis has been a guest on 1 episode.