A Peoples’ History of Sports As Seen Through the Eyes of The Nation
These are highlights from The Nation's sports reporting over the past one hundred years with links to the full text of each article.
It Seems to Haywood Broun
Heywood Broun, October 23, 1929
Lefty Grove shattered the cruel slanders which have always followed lefthanders. It has been said since baseball first began that southpaws are unreliable, wild, and not to be trusted in a pinch. Yet when danger beckoned thickest it was always Grove who stood towering on the mound whipping over strikes against luckless batters. He at least did a yeoman service for the philosophy of efficiency, for when he sent the ball across the plate at lightning speed he exemplified the truth of the scientific formula, ‘You cannot hit what you cannot see.’
American Sports and American Life
John R. Tunis, June 25, 1930
Everyone who gets behind the scenes of American sporting life must be struck with the fact that there is amazingly little real sport left in the United States today. Over-organization has throttled the real spirit of sport, the feeling of the game for the game’s sake. It has substituted in place of this spirit not merely a desire for victory, but an alarming insistence on winning. Laugh if you will at the misguided idealism which sent our fathers out to die for dear old Yale; at least it was idealism. There is precious little idealism of any sort at present when a squad is asked to go out and die for a $15,000-a-year head coach.
Sports and Defense
Carl Reiss, March 1, 1941
The German use of sports as a preparation for war was even more thorough than the Russian and on a greater scale. The Nazis admitted it openly. Shortly before the 1936 Olympic Games, Hermann Teske, sports instructor at the Zossen military school near Berlin, published a pamphlet in which he said: ‘All German sport must have a purpose. The goal of physical training is readiness for defense.’....In the United States sports are taken seriously, probably too seriously. We like to think of ourselves as the leading sports nation in the world. But are we? We hold most of the records, but records aren’t everything. What do these victories mean in the light of our defense preparations?
O’Malley’s Double Play
David Cort, June 25, 1957
So baseball is not as important as housing or atomic fallout. Nevertheless, when it was announced that the Brooklyn Dodgers may go to Los Angeles and the New York Giants to San Francisco, several million Americans felt much as if they’d just been evicted or irradiated. To them and millions of others, the chief present passion in living is connected with the winning or losing of today’s ball game. Giants and Dodgers fans almost literally felt like a baby whose father deliberately drops it on its little soft head. The baby tried to understand that Father had his reasons and ended by wondering whether it really liked Daddy very much. The poor thing was in trauma.
The Boswells of Baseball
Roger Kahn, August 3, 1957
If the public conception of a sportswriter grappling with english is somewhat vague, theories about the life he leads are stark and clear. ‘Gin for breakfast, Scotch for lunch and a Copa girl to help out with the story at a late supper,’ friends sometimes told me slyly when I wrote sports for a newspaper. The drinking is optional, but a sportswriter today is far more likely to have a publicity man than a Copa girl providing suggestions for his lead. During the 1920s there seems to have been a good deal of outright corruption of sportswriters, notably by boxing promoters. There is almost no corruption through cash now, not because of any upturn in the honesty of mankind, but simply because the risks exceed any possible gains. Public relations have replaced the handouts and again baseball, the most intensively covered sport, has set the pattern.
My Crusade Against Football
Wade Thompson, April 11, 1959
The football fan, compared to the baseball fan or the tennis fan, is an absolute oaf. The baseball fan, particularly, is a man of high perceptivity and learning. He has memorized a staggering quantity of statistics. He can recognize each player; he knows what each batted last year, when and where each broke which clavicle and why, and how good the prospects are for each rookie who comes along. The football fan knows nothing. He can’t recognize one player from another, except by the number on the uniform. He can’t tell a right guard from a left kidney. It is all he can do to follow the ball, and often he can’t even do that.
Basketball: The Fix is Still On
Willard Manus, January 6, 1960
What corrupted the game yesterday has corrupted it today and will corrupt it tomorrow. Nothing has been learned in the last ten years, nothing has been changed. Despite the crew-cuts and pink cheeks, coIlege basketball is, as it was ten years ago, a maggoty mess of moral hypocrisy,
out-and-out dishonesty, side-of-the-mouth connivery. The game still meets sports writer Jimmy Cannon’s old description of it: ‘The slot machine of sports.’
TV Kidnaps Sports
Jack R. Griffin, March 29, 1965
Television has not yet completely taken over sports--although it is calling the rules for some of them--but already it has left deep scars, and the concern has become so great that a Senate committee recently took a brief look at the intertwining of sports and natlonal television ....Columbia Broadcasting System owns outright the richest franchise in baseball, the New York Yankees. The National Broadcasting Company snatched the American Football League from bankruptcy wlth a $36 million contract. In retaliation, CBS poured $28 million into the competing National Football League for two years of television rlghts. The drama of teams or leagues competing for athletic supremacy has developed into a war between television networks for the best program package and there seems to be no end to the money that can be spent, or the rules that may be changed.
Soccer: The Rabble Game
David Cort, August 30, 1965
If professional big-league soccer becomes an American fixture, it is certain that the top talent will for a good many years be drawn primarily from recent immigrants. One must consider the possibility that the teams would represent immigrant minorities, fighting out and perpetuating their imported national antagonisms on the field and in the stands. That is surely a gloomy prospect.
The Sports Rebellion
Steve Murdock, February 7, 1972
The Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments shortly on Curt Flood’s challenge of the reserve clause system, as it is practiced in professional baseball. The eventual decision in this case could well establish restraints on the slave-trade practices of baseball club owners. And as columnist Red Smith notes, ‘Even if the Court does not uphold the Thirteenth Amendment, Congress just might get the notion that baseball has been above the law long enough, and do something about it.’
The Olympics: Can Russia Lose?
Yuri Brokhin, July 17, 1976
Sports have been turned into a detour with which the Kremlin diverts people from their attempts to judge the moral values of their society. Three million athletic coaches with specialized secondary school training and 300,000 college-educated sports specialists invite persons of all ages and professions to come to the 100,000 first-rate Soviet sports complexes where, quite free of cost, they may run, jump, swim and play games-provided, of course, that they don’t ask why Soviet tanks are firing in Angola, what freedom of speech is, or how the KGB operates.
Race, Sports and the Modern World
Gerald Early, August 10, 1998
If nothing else, Jackie Robinson, an unambiguous athletic hero for both races and symbol of sacrifice on the altar of racism, is our most magnificent case of affirmative action. He entered a lily-white industry amid cries that he was unqualified and he succeeded, on merit, beyond anyone’s wildest hope.