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The Significance Of International Sports

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Category: American History

Autor: reviewessays 28 December 2010

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The Significance of International Sports

International sporting events have become somewhat of a staple in today’s society, whether it be the Olympics, the World Cup, or exhibition games between the New York Yankees and the Tokyo Giants. These competitions generally bring out high spirits and intense enthusiasm. Most people envision sports as childhood pastimes, played for fun and recreation. However, in a lot of cases, international sporting events mean more than just the game or event themselves because they inspire nationalism and patriotism. The patriotism and nationalism that these events inspire, however, is not always positive and can sometimes “legitimize” superiority claims or inspire anti-foreign sentiment.

In 1936, the summer Olympics took place in Germany, where at the time dictator Adolph Hitler was claiming that the Germans were a master race and he would surely be proven right in the Olympic games where the Germans would obviously win every gold medal because they were so superior. Jesse Owens and other incredible African-American and Jewish athletes proved Hitler wrong. Owens persevered to capture four gold medals in the 1936 Olympics; in the 100-meters sprint, the 200-meter sprint, the long jump and the 400-meter relay, breaking two Olympic records and one world record. Jesse Owens’s record for the long jump set in the 1936 Olympics stood for twenty-five years. The German spectators gave Owens a very large standing ovation. In the unofficial point system drawn up by the American Olympic Committee the American male track and field team scored 203 points. Owens, amazingly, scored 40 points by himself, almost two-thirds the total of the entire German track and field team. When Jesse Owens made his triumphant return to the United States, he was honored and celebrated with a New York ticker tape parade, and awarded many honors. Even though the United States was not yet at war with Nazi Germany, the people knew of Hitler’s white supremacy policy, but did not interfere with it because the citizens were extremely bent towards isolationism following the first World War and the Great Depression. Owens’s triumphs in the 1936 Olympics lifted the spirits of the American people who were still greatly battling the Great Depression. Owens was turned into a national icon and political figure, and reportedly received 10,000 dollars to endorse Republican candidate Alf Landon in the 1936 Presidential election. The fact that Alf Landon tried to capitalize on Jesse Owens’s success gives a better picture of just how intense the patriotism surrounding Jesse Owens had amounted to; the Republican party believed that the American voters would cast their vote based on the endorsement of an Olympic hero. The significance of Jesse Owens’s triumphs in relation to society proves that the 1936 Olympic Games were more than just games.

One of the major reasons that Hitler believed his Aryan athletes to be racially superior in the 1936 Olympics was because of the boxing match between Joe Louis and Max Schmeling, in which Schmeling knocked Louis out in twelve rounds. What was most interesting leading up to the match was that Hitler privately was upset with Schmeling for accepting the match because he had so little chance to win. Historian Chris Mead wrote: "When he got back to Germany, Schmeling lunched with Adolf Hitler in Munich . . .The dictator was upset that Schmeling was risking Germany's reputation in a fight against a black man when there was so little chance of victory. With his usual self-confidence, Schmeling assured his Fuehrer that he had a good

chance to win, and Hitler presented the boxer with an autographed picture of himself. Schmeling hung the picture of Hitler in his study.” One of the reasons for Hitler’s private misgiving about the fight was that Schmeling had already been knocked out by a Jew, Max Baer. Therefore, prior to the fight, the German government completely detached itself from Schmeling. After the fight, however, Schmeling became a national hero and a symbol of Germany. Therefore, when the rematch came in 1938, the boxing match was a metaphor for the impending second World War, and America was rooting wildly for Louis–when Louis stopped by Washington DC early in 1938 to meet President Roosevelt, the president gripped Louis's right arm and said, "Joe, we're depending on those muscles for America." Dave Kindred of the Sporting News theorized that the fights between Louis and Scmeling were so significant because, “More than any other sports event, a fight can be laden with meaning beyond itself. That's because boxing is the simplest and rawest of games, hand-to-hand combat by two men with the winner decided by his ability to deliver more punishment than he accepts. And the drama is all but irresistible because boxing is the beast in the human animal, at once repulsive and compelling.” The rematch lasted less than a round; Louis knocked out Scmeling in two minutes and four seconds. Heywood Broun of the New York World Telegram theorized that this was the turning point in the war that had not even officially begun: “One hundred years from now some historian may theorize, in a footnote at least, that the decline of Nazi prestige began with a left hook delivered by a former unskilled automotive worker who had never studied the policies of Neville Chamberlain and had no opinion whatever in regard to the situation in Czechoslovakia.” In my opinion, the series of two fights between Louis and Schmeling remain the most significant international sporting events in US History because the complete morale of two world powers rested on the shoulders of the two men in what were the metaphorical first two battles between the United States and Germany in World War II.

Once every four years, the World Cup of soccer takes place, stirring up patriotism and nationalism all over the place. In the 1998 World Cup in France, future “Axis of Evil” member Iran battled the United States for soccer supremacy. The Iranian soccer fans, who had been chanting “Death to America” during international soccer competition for nearly two decades , saw their national soccer team get its first ever World Cup victory—against the enemy of the Iranian people no less. Celebration of the feat flooded the streets of Tehran. "Tonight, again, the strong and arrogant opponent felt the bitter taste of defeat at your hands," Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the nation of Iran’s spiritual leader, said in a message to his team. "Be happy that you have made the Iranian nation happy." While the United States soccer team probably was not arrogant since they are inferior to virtually all Latin American and European national soccer, Khamenei was rhetorically referring to the victory as a metaphor of Iran as a nation triumphing over the United States. It is safe to say that the entire nation of Iran, which is notorious in its hatred for the United States, were in assent with Khamenei’s comments and felt as if they themselves had achieved victory over the “arrogant Americans.” The coach of the Iranian soccer team, Jahal Talebi chose more mature words than Khamenei: "It is a big victory for the Iranian nation," Talebi said. "Not because it was the United States, but because it was Iran's first World Cup win." Talebi, being on the field, did not criticize the Americans as arrogant opponents, because unlike Khamenei, his sole interest in the game did not lie in fanning the flames of the anti-American sentiment. He was just happy that his team could achieve victory and inspire positive nationalism as opposed to negative nationalism that Khamenei was intentionally provoking, rendering the competition between Iran and the United States to be more than just a game of soccer. It is no secret that the two countries that are the most fervent about watching baseball are currently Japan and the United States. In recent years, Japanese baseball players such as Hideo Nomo, Ichiro Suzuki, and Hideki Matsui have had an increasing amount of success in the major leagues in America. For two of the past four years, Major League Baseball (MLB)’s opening day has taken place in Japan. This past year, the New York Yankees, for whom Hideki Matsui plays, opened their season in Japan. However, before their official opening day they played exhibition games against the Hanshin Tigers and Yamiuri Giants, Matsui’s former team. Fans from all over Japan flocked to see the exhibition and MLB games. In the second game of the MLB season, Hideki Matsui hit a home run against the Devil Rays, causing the Tokyo Dome to erupt in standing ovation, a rarity in Japan. The opening of the season in Japan was significant because the Japanese fans got to see their hometown hero contributing to the success of the Yankees, inspiring a strong sense of pride. While many Japanese players are flourishing right now in America, manager Bobby Valentine is doing the opposite right now and is managing the Chibe Lotte Marines. Valentine, who managed the New York Mets to the 2000 World Series is now in his second cycle of managing the Marines. When asked why he is making a second cycle in Japan, Valentine replied, “I don't know if it is Japanese baseball so much as this team. It is an association that was established in 1995 that never went away, with both the owner and many of the people in the organization. I think they deserve more than what they have gotten over the last 20 years or so, and hopefully, I will be able to deliver that.” Valentine is a mega-celebrity in Chibe Lotte, and will become a national hero if he restores the team to legitimacy in the Japanese baseball league. The significance of his returning to Japan after leading an American team to the World Series is that it shows that Japanese Baseball is gaining respect and notoriety in America and all over the world; one of the reasons that Japan became so militaristic prior to World War II was because of the lack of respect shown to them as a nation. It is important for there to be positive nationalism in Japan just as there has to be in Iran and it is nice to see positive sentiment towards Americans in foreign countries.

The most recent example of international sporting competition that held extreme significance to America was the 1980 “Miracle on Ice.”The U.S. Olympic hockey team, who had lost poorly to the Russians 10-3 in an exhibition game just days before the 1980 Olympic tournament had begun, somehow found a way to defeat Russia when the gold was on the line. U.S. coach Herb Brooks said it best before the game in a pep talk to his team: “You were born to be hockey players. You were meant to be here. This moment is yours.” Mike Eruzione scored a goal with 10 minutes left in regulation to break a 3-3 tie, and the United States held on for a 4-3 victory on Feb. 22, 1980. The Soviet Union, prior to 1980, had won eight of the previous nine Olympic golds. The reason that the “Miracle on Ice” was so significant was because after World War II, the United States and the Soviet Union emerged as superpowers. Throughout the next half a century, the two nations were involved in the Cold War, during which the two nations were involved in an intense nuclear arms race, “the iron curtain,” containment, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the controversy over the Berlin Wall. The “Miracle on Ice” signified the beginning of the end for the Soviet Union, which collapsed in December of 1991, finally ending the Cold War. The American people have not been so jubilant about a sporting event since the “Miracle on Ice” and may never get so excited about competition in sports again. The game will never be forgotten by millions of Americans who remember partaking in air raid drills in fear of a nuclear attack by the Soviet Union. Nobody who watched the game or has ever seen the highlights will ever forget the famous call of broadcaster Al Michaels at the end of the game when he shouted, “DO YOU BELIEVE IN MIRACLES?! YES!”

It is said that the post-Cold War Olympic games are not nearly as interesting as they were during the Cold War--The present controversies have little drama compared to the boycotts, kidnappings, and steroid scandals are not nearly as intense as when the two superpowers brought their angst to the playing fields. Notre Dame Observer reporter believes that the lack of intensity in viewing the Olympics takes place because America is the World’s only superpower: “The post-Cold War Olympics just don't measure up somehow. I think this is because the United States is now the world's only superpower. Our nation dominates every field of human activity from film to food, fashion to finance. Our cultural, economic, diplomatic and military power is unmatched. It should come as no surprise that this power is being transferred to international sports. Nor should it be a surprise that other countries carp and complain about this dominance. Any cursory study of history will show that powerful nations attract competitors. What is true of geo-politics is true of sport.” I completely agree with his opinion; the drama in international sports is caused by competition diplomatically. Because America’s current enemies, the terrorists, do not sponsor their own Olympic team, it is impossible to watch the Olympics with the same fervor.

President Ronald Reagan, in his famous Berlin Wall Speech on June 12, 1987, alluded to the significance that international sporting events, and more specifically the Olympics, carry: “One final proposal, one close to my heart: Sport represents a source of enjoyment and ennoblement, and you may have noted that the Republic of Korea--South Korea--has offered to permit certain events of the 1988 Olympics to take place in the North. International sports competitions of all kinds could take place in both parts of this city. And what better way to demonstrate to the world the openness of this city than to offer in some future year to hold the Olympic games here in Berlin, East and West?” Reagan viewed sports as so significant that they could help rebuild Berlin, a city torn apart by the Cold War. In this case, international sports clearly had significance beyond the playing field because President Reagan intended for them to serve to help rebuild a city in the future that had been split in half during the Cold War.

In conclusion, international competition in real life oftentimes translates into the significance of competition in sports. Countless examples of this phenomenon have taken place–especially in the Olympics and the World Cup of soccer. Usually, this extreme competition brings out the best in people, but it can also sometimes encourage negative nationalism or patriotism as it did in the 1998 World Cup. It will be interesting to see what this year’s Olympics bring in terms of events extending beyond the field of play.

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