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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,