Throughout the Cold War, the Soviet Union deplored the treatment of African Americans by the U.S. government as proof of hypocrisy in the American promises of freedom and equality. This probing history examines government attempts to manipulate international perceptions of U.S. race relations during the Cold War by sending African American athletes abroad on goodwill tours and in international competitions as cultural ambassadors and visible symbols of American values. Damion L. Thomas follows the State Department's efforts from 1945 to 1968 to showcase prosperous African American athletes including Jackie Robinson, Jesse Owens, and the Harlem Globetrotters as the preeminent citizens of the African Diaspora, rather than as victims of racial oppression. With athletes in baseball, track and field, and basketball, the government relied on figures whose fame carried the desired message to countries where English was little understood. However, eventually African American athletes began to provide counter-narratives to State Department claims of American exceptionalism, most notably with Tommie Smith and John Carlos's famous black power salute at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. Exploring the geopolitical significance of racial integration in sports during the early days of the Cold War, this book looks at the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations' attempts to utilize sport to overcome hostile international responses to the violent repression of the civil rights movement in the United States. Highlighting how African American athletes responded to significant milestones in American racial justice such as the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision and the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Thomas surveys the shifting political landscape during this period as African American athletes increasingly resisted being used in State Department propaganda and began to use sports to challenge continued oppression.
For Olympic athletes, fans and the media alike, the games bring out the best sport has to offer--unity, patriotism, friendly competition and the potential for stunning upsets. Yet wherever international competition occurs, politics are never far removed. Early in the Cold War, when all U.S.-Soviet interactions were treated as potential matters of life and death, each side tried to manipulate the International Olympic Committee. Despite the IOC's efforts to keep the games apolitical, they were quickly drawn into the superpowers' global struggle for supremacy, with medal counts the ultimate prize. Based on IOC, U.S. government and contemporary media sources, this book looks at six consecutive Olympiads to show how high the stakes became once the Soviets began competing in 1952, threatening America's athletic supremacy.
Orwell was wrong. Sports are not "war without the shooting", nor are they "war by other means." To be sure sports have generated animosity throughout human history, but they also require rules to which the participants agree to abide before the contest. Among other things, those rules are supposed to limit violence, even death. More than anything else, sports have been a significant part of a historical "civilizing process." They are the opposite of war. As the historical profession has taken its cultural turn over the last few decades, scholars have turned their attention to subject once seen as marginal. As researchers have come to understand the centrality of the human body in human history, they have come to study this most corporeal of human activities. Taking early cues from physical educators and kinesiologists, historians have been exploring sports in all their forms in order to help us answer the most fundamental questions to which scholars have devoted their lives. We have now seen a veritable explosion excellent work on this subject, just as sports have assumed an even greater share of a globalizing world's cultural, political and economic space. Practiced by millions and watched by billions, sports provide an enormous share of content on the Internet. This volume combines the efforts of sports historians with essays by historians whose careers have been devoted to more traditional topics. We want to show how sports have evolved from ancient societies to the world we inhabit today. Our goal is to introduce those from outside this sub-field to this burgeoning body of scholarship. At the same time, we hope here to show those who may want to study sport with rigor and nuance how to embark on a rewarding journey and tackle profound matters that have affected and will affect all of humankind.