Perspective | National Archives helps reveal the great myth of American sports
So wrote The first black man allowed to fight (and win) for the heavyweight championship of the world, Jack Johnson. About 1921. On lined notepad sheets. In blasphemy. With a pencil.
It’s a page from his handwritten biography, now a brownish yellow, some of which the National Archives Museum unveiled Friday along with thousands of other artifacts — like a blue jacket worn by President George W. Bush. was when he threw the first pitch after 9/9. 11 – i His first sports appearance.
But what caught my attention were the things that reminded – as Johnson thought – how games have been, and often still are, the egalitarian ideals we espouse: meritocracy, fairness, Comprehensiveness, equality. The same problems we see all these years later show up in things like NFL coach Brian Flores. A case of discrimination Against the league, women’s soccer players Had to wrestle for the same prize money of the World Cup. And of course Colin Kaepernick is being deported. This is why sports are the perfect petri dish for protest and social change.
For example, “All-American: The Power of Sports” has a photo of an all-black Army football team from 1926 on display. They were segregated from the white service academies, who were given gold by sports writers during the Roaring Twenties. Grant Land Rice, who called this time the “Golden Age of Sports”.
Japanese women are pictured playing baseball at an internment camp east of the Sierra Nevada in California, one of 10 sites where the U.S. government imprisoned Japanese settlers during World War II. The pictures of the women looked made up, if you can imagine that, it was a pleasure.
There is a 1944 letter from Army Lt. Jack Robinson about a white bus driver who demanded that he get out of the seat next to a woman he had the wrong idea of a bus driver. That he is white. It resulted in the lieutenant, who was a standout athlete at UCLA and would become the first black major league baseball player in 60 years, to be court-martialed for the violation. Robinson wrote to the Civilian Assistant to the Secretary of War on unlined paper with letterhead McCloskey General Hospital, Temple, Tex.
The exhibit’s curator, Alice Kemps, admits that she is not a sports fan. What drove him to design the display, he said, was instead his interest in studying national identity.
“I was really interested to learn that in the late 19th century, early 20th century, sports were used in schools and on military training grounds, almost as a formal fashion, to create good citizens. because of the values of education,” explained the campus. “And you can see it in some of the propaganda. There’s a poster in the exhibit that says, ‘This is America.’ “
And another poster of a private. Joe Louis, who followed Johnson as the only black heavyweight champion of the world, was used to wary black men against joining the segregated army for another world war campaign.
“The government, along with major professional sports franchises, college athletics, and the USA Olympic Games, deliberately convey specific messages and images in a concerted effort to fashion cultural attitudes about race, gender, and masculinity. are,” retired George Mason University sports historian David Wiggins, one of several scholars who consulted the archives, wrote in an email, “as well as about war, patriotism, and being a ‘good American.’ Appropriate thoughts.”
Indeed, the collection was not culled from dusty attics in small towns or from memorabilia collectors. It mostly came from government storerooms. War Relocation Authority. Presidential Libraries. Secretary of War. Bureau of Prisons, where Johnson’s letter from his time at Leavenworth was filed Wrongfully convicted of violating the Mann Act.Also known as the White Slave Traffic Act 1910. It was a law meant to trap black men like Johnson who dared to have relationships with white women. He accused the men of taking white women for prostitution across state lines.
“There were situations where sports were used to control the behavior of certain groups or to foster certain traits,” Kemps explained. “But then these groups were able to sort of turn that around.” and can use sports to fulfill their needs and express their identity and power.”
Found in the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which, among other things, oversaw boarding schools where Native American children were forced in an attempt to deprive them of their culture, one of his most famous articles, Athlete Non Prell was Jim Thorpe’s letters. In some, he demanded his salary from a contract he signed that, like many contracts signed by indigenous peoples with the federal government, was not being fulfilled. Also on display: The International Olympic Committee awarded gold medals to the Thorpe family in the early 1980s to replace the pair. Taken away from him That he won in 1912. The committee then said he violated its amateur rules by playing minor league baseball for a few summers. Many believed that he was disrespected for being an Indian.
“Regardless of their hardships and horrific treatment at the hands of the government, these people can exercise some agency and feel a much-needed sense of community and friendship 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 trying to destroy their dignity and, in some cases, their entire lives.”
In fact, the exhibition reveals as much about sports mythology as the pillars of a pluralistic democracy.