The National Archives Helps Reveal the Great Myth of American Sports

“Why should a man who expects his audience to do what he is trying to do and get paid for it, because of the color of his skin, be the target of abhorrent abuse?

“Is not the human instinct itself allowed? Remove the veil of civilization and you will find that the human race is morally quite similar. We have advanced wonderfully in science, but morally, prized, less than anyone. We all should develop the spirit of fair play.”

so wrote The first black man allowed to fight for (and win) the world’s heavyweight championship, Jack Johnson. circa 1921. On the lined notepad sheet. In the drag with pencil.

It’s a page from his handwritten autobiography, now grayish yellow, some of which were unveiled by the National Archives Museum last Friday, along with myriad other artifacts β€” such as the blue jacket worn by former President George W. The pitch was thrown. 9/11 β€” in its first sports exhibition,

But what caught my attention were the reminders – as Johnson thought – of how playing, and often still are, the egalitarian ideals we champion to embody them in the arena fought for. : competency, fairness, inclusivity, equality. All these years we see the same problems manifested in things like NFL coach Brian Flores discrimination lawsuit Against the League, Women’s Soccer Players Have to wrestle for the same World Cup prize money, or, of course, Colin Kaepernick being deported. This is why sport is the perfect petri dish for protest and social change.

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For example, “All American: The Power of Sports” displays a photo of the 1926 All-Black Army football team. He was distinguished from the service academy white football players who were gilded by players during the Roaring ’20s. Like Grantland Rice, which made the time the golden age of sports.

A photo of Japanese women playing baseball at an internment camp east of the Sierra Nevada in California, one of 10 places where the US government imprisoned Japanese people living there during World War II. If you can imagine it, the women were photographed, happy.

There is a 1944 letter from Jack Robinson, a Black Army lieutenant, about a White bus driver demanding that he be moved from a seat next to a woman whom the bus driver had mistakenly assumed to be white. This led the lieutenant, who was a noted athlete at UCLA and become the first black Major League Baseball player in 60 years, to be court martialed for disobedience. Robinson wrote on civilian paper with letterhead McCloskey General Hospital, Temple, Texas, to a civilian aide to the Secretary of War.

The exhibition’s curator, Alice Kamps, admitted that they weren’t some crazy sports fan. He said that what inspired him to design the display was his interest in studying national identity instead.

“I was really curious to learn how the game was used in an almost prescriptive fashion in the late 19th, early 20th century, to make good citizens in schools and military training grounds because of the sport’s values. was used.” Kamps explained. “And you can even see it in some promotions. Like, there’s a poster in the exhibit that says, ‘This is America.'”

And another poster of Ek Pvt. Joe Louis, who followed Johnson as the world’s black heavyweight champion, was being used to caution black men from joining a different army again for another World War I campaign.

β€œThe government, in conjunction with the major professional sports franchises, college athletics and the USA Olympic Games, has deliberately conveyed particular messages and images in a concerted effort to create cultural attitudes about race, gender, and masculinity,” said retired George Mason. “As well as apt ideas about war, patriotism, and being a ‘good American’,” Wiggins wrote in an email, one of several scholars who consulted university sports historian David Archives.

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In fact, the collection was not taken from dusty attics or memorabilia collectors in small towns. It mostly came from government storerooms. War Rehabilitation Authority. Presidential Library. War Secretary. Bureau of Prisons, where Johnson’s letter was filed from his tenure in Leavenworth after Wrongly convicted of violation of Mann Act, also known as the White Slave Traffic Act of 1910. It was a law passed aimed at implicating black men like Johnson who dared to have relationships with white women. It accused those men of taking white women across state lines for prostitution.

“There were situations where play was used to control the behavior of certain groups or to develop certain traits,” Kamps explained. “But then these groups were able to kind of take that turn and use the game to fulfill their needs and express their identity and power.”

The Bureau of Indian Affairs found that, among other things, boarding schools that forced Native American children into an attempt to strip them of their culture, one of its most famous subjects was that of athlete nonpareil Jim Thorpe. There were letters. In some, he demanded his salary from a contract he signed, such that several treaties signed by indigenous peoples with the federal government were not being fulfilled. Also on display: The International Olympic Committee awarded gold medals to Thorpe’s family in the early 1980s to replace the pair snatched from him that he had won in 1912. The committee then stated that he had violated its amateur rules by playing minor league baseball a few summers. Many thought that he had to suffer humiliation for being an Indian.

“Despite their hardships and horrific abuse at the hands of the government, these people can exercise some agency and realize a much-needed sense of community and brotherhood through participation in sports and recreational activities,” Wiggins wrote. “It was a means for these people to try to maintain a sense of cultural identity, while attempting to take away their dignity and, in some cases, entire way of life.”

In fact, as much as this exhibition reveals, it is the mythology of the game, which are the pillars of a pluralistic democracy.

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