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Playing Tough

The World of Sports and Politics

Roger I. Abrams

Publication Year: 2013

Playing Tough is an entertaining and thoroughly enlightening look at the unique and surprisingly outsized role that sports have played in politics and history. Ever since the bread and circuses of Rome, sports have been used as a tool to entertain the masses and to instill civic pride. Abrams shows both the positive and the negative ways in which sports and politics have coalesced, from the rabid nationalism of the 1936 Nazi Olympics, the political grudge match of the Louis and Schmeling fights, and the "futbol war" between Honduras and Costa Rica to the inspiring stories of South Africa's rugby nation-building and Muhammad Ali's brave antiwar stance, which nearly cost him his career. Abrams is an informed and impassioned writer who chronicles the profoundly creative and destructive influence that sports have on the political life of our nation and the world.

This book will be of interest to any and all sports and politics enthusiasts and is a wonderful introduction for course creation and adoption.

Published by: Northeastern University Press

Title Page, Copyright, Praise

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pp. iii-vii


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p. ix-ix

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Preface and Acknowledgments

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pp. xi-xii

To some, sports are a frivolous diversion. To others, they are the most important component of their lives. To most people, sports are an important part of a full life, along with family, friends, and a job. Sports inspire us and outrage us; they entertain, and, if we are fortunate, they can cause us to be very happy, if not content. Their potential for joy should be a matter of celebration and not ...

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Introduction: Sports and Politics

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pp. 1-19

Roman playwright Juvenal bemoaned his society’s descent to the level of “bread and circuses,” but all communities need bread to survive, and “circuses,” at least in the form of sporting events, appear to be almost as essential. Sports and society have been linked since ancient times, and politics, in terms of some fundamental means of community organization, has been ever present ...

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1. Early Baseball and the Urban Political Machine

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pp. 20-43

The nineteenth century in America was a time of explosive population growth, remarkable technological change, and a disastrous civil war. At the same time, in this period of upheaval the men and women of this country created a uniquely American culture. European immigration and domestic migration dramatically increased the population density of urban centers. The Industrial ...

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2. The Nazi Olympic Triumph

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pp. 44-71

Joseph Goebbels was the voice of the Nazi regime from 1933 to 1945. As the reich minister for public enlightenment and propaganda, he orchestrated the Third Reich’s public relations. Every aspect of German life and culture came under his vigilant gaze. A brutal and psychotic bureaucrat, Goebbels stood at Adolf Hitler’s right hand through the rise and fall of one of the world’s most ...

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3. The War of the World: Joe Louis v. Max Schmeling

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pp. 72-99

Joe Louis and Max Schmeling were polar opposites in the public’s mind. Louis, the “Brown Bomber,” was the black son of an American sharecropper and grandson of a slave. Schmeling, the “Black Uhlan of the Rhine,” was the embodiment of the new Germany of Adolf Hitler. Their two battles in the boxing ring at Yankee Stadium in 1936 and 1938 reflected the world’s political rivalry ...

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4. The “Futbol War” of Central America

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pp. 100-117

On July 15, 1969, the New York Times reported that an armed conflict had broken out between Honduras and El Salvador, neighboring Central American countries. Salvadoran aircraft — the country had only fourteen propeller-driven planes — bombed southern Honduran cities. Honduras and El Salvador had broken diplomatic relations two weeks earlier “after a series of violent incidents ...

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5. Muhammad Ali and the Symbols of Politics

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pp. 118-141

Never a man of a few words, Muhammad Ali used but nine of them to express his reason for declining the U.S. government’s invitation to fight on one side of a civil war between two political factions in South Asia. He had no personal “quarrel” with the peasants he would be expected to kill as a member of the fighting forces. Unconquerable and unyielding, by his simple act of resistance ...

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6. Olympic Boycotts and International Relations

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pp. 142-173

In 1945, after the close of the Great Patriotic War, as the Russians called their life-and-death struggle with the Nazis, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics faced the United States in the “Great Radio Chess Match.” Conducted over the international radio links from New York and Moscow over a five-day period, ten leading masters from each country, seated 5,000 miles apart, faced off for ...

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7. Sports and South African Liberation

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pp. 174-193

Nelson Mandela was the greatest revolutionary in the history of the African continent. He catalyzed fundamental political change in his country of South Africa essentially without firing a shot. He used not guns but politics, negotiation skills, and the South Africans’ love of sports to transform his nation from a land of racist tyranny into a multiracial democracy elected through universal ...

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8. Hardball in City Hall: Public Financing of Sports Stadiums

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pp. 194-223

As your mother likely told you many years ago, playing games involving a bat and ball in public spaces presents risk of injury to persons and property. In fact, the city of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, enacted a local ordinance in 1791 stating that “no Person, an Inhabitant of said Town, shall be permitted to play at any Game called . . . Baseball . . . or any other Game or Games with Balls ...

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pp. 224-230

The connection between sports and politics runs deep in human existence. From ancient days, humans developed their athletic attributes in order to prepare for the hunt and for the inevitable conflicts between clans and families. Those who led these human groups recognized the importance of physical fitness. They knew, as the Duke of Wellington would say millennia later, ...

Notes on Sources

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pp. 231-234


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pp. 235-243


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pp. 245-258

E-ISBN-13: 9781555538156
E-ISBN-10: 1555538150
Print-ISBN-13: 9781555537531

Page Count: 276
Publication Year: 2013