How to Take Back Sports

Greed and commercialism have ruined the game--but we can save it.

| January-February 2000

How far back must we go to remember that sports matter? How deeply into our personal and national pasts must we travel to recall that we once cared?

Do we have to return to 1936? Adolf Hitler tried to make the Olympics into a propaganda machine for anti-Semitism and racism. In that case, American track star Jesse Owens, demonstrating that the master race could be mastered at racing, stole Hitler’s ideological show. Were not sports a vehicle of significant political substance then?

Or should we return to 1947 and Jackie Robinson? A baseball player integrated our “national pastime” a year before the U.S. Army considered African Americans equal. Robinson’s barrier-break may have been largely based on ticket-selling economics for the Brooklyn Dodgers’ owners, but didn’t sports do something good?

Their fists raised, their dignity palpable, track stars Tommie Smith and John Carlos spread the American black power and student protest movements to the world when they stood on the victory stand at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. Politics and sports mixed beautifully then.

Remember when tennis feminist Billie Jean King took on an old fart named Bobby Riggs in 1973, boldly bringing the women’s movement to the playing fields? That moment of sports theater stirred up sexual politics as much as any Betty Friedan essay or Miss America bra burning could ever do.

Sports had meaning. And sports were accessible.

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