- Democratic Sports: Men’s and Women’s College Athletics during the Great Depression by Brad Austin
Brad Austin, in Democratic Sports, provides an examination of college sports and recreations during the Great Depression. The core of his research rests in his examination of five public universities—The Ohio State University, University of Maryland, University of Texas, University of California in Berkeley, and University of Tennessee. While these institutions, as well as other public universities he mentions throughout his text, provide a requisite geographic spread, the study is limited to what the impact of the Great Depression had on major public universities. Not addressed is what was occurring in the small private liberal arts colleges and the large heavily endowed private universities.
Democratic Sports, which is derived from the author’s dissertation, argues that the 1930s were challenging times for American universities and colleges, both economically and politically. The Depression severely impacted state support of universities, and radicals in and out of the university were questioning the country’s democratic and capitalist system. In addition, universities and colleges were still trying to respond to the reforms demanded by the Carnegie Report of 1929, which had found intercollegiate athletics to be overly commercialized and corrupt and damaging to the educational mission.
The leaders of the universities fought back by linking their sports programs with American values of democracy and capitalism. They “defended the established order and their position within it. They did so by expanding upon idealized images of competitive, democratic, and successful American athletes that they were producing as the future leaders of capitalism and the saviors of Western civilization” (90), thereby justifying to their state taxpayers their value in American society and to Carnegie Report critics their value in the educational mission.
Eschewing a chronological approach or a school-by-school approach, Austin gives the history in six thematic chapters. In Chapter 1, he examines the overall finances of the universities during the Depression and shows in his sample of public universities that state support had severely dropped in all of them by the early 1930s and only began to increase in the late 1930s. New Deal money helped the budgets of many of the universities and colleges.
In Chapter 2, Austin examines the athletic finances and shows how football revenues, although greatly reduced, sustained the universities’ athletic budgets through the Depression. The need for football revenues during the straitened times was a huge factor in administrators justifying support for athletic programs. Most importantly, Austin reveals that, despite the severely tightened budgets, his sample universities managed throughout the Depression to maintain full or almost full support for both male and female sports. He recognizes, though, that some public universities and colleges were forced to cut some minor sports.
In Chapter 3, the author looks at the “competitive democratic athletics” for men and how the values inculcated through their sports programs justified in the administrations their [End Page 109] value in producing leaders in America’s democratic capitalist society through competitive sports. Chapters 4 and 5 are where he explores women’s sports—in Chapter 4, he argues they were shaped by a noncompetitive model that was based on democratic “communal values,” and, in Chapter 5, he looks at the late 1930s’ and early 1940s’ challenges to the anticompetitive model in women sports, notably the launch of the first intercollegiate golf tournament for women in 1941. In Chapter 6, he examines the commercialization of college sports.
The six chapters are bookended by an introduction where Austin presents his topic and thesis and by an epilogue where he looks at the present-day overcommercialized inter-collegiate sports programs that show that the same issues raised by the Carnegie Report are still relevant today.
Austin provides sufficient evidence in his quoted documents that supports his thesis of how educational leaders presented an ideology that buttressed the role of sports and recreations in their higher educational institutions during the Great Depression and, thus, has made a worthwhile contribution to our understanding of...