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Professor David Horowitz Connects Sports and History
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As a recent graduate of Portland State University, I had the pleasure of spending a year in the classroom of Professor David Horowitz studying American History from 1890 to the present. Professor David Horowitz matched his knowledge of the subject with an energetic style that made each class interesting and engaging.

Horowitz received his PhD from the University of Minnesota in 1971and has been teaching at Portland State since 1967 as a Professor of US Cultural and 20th Century History.

Horowitz grew up a New York Giants fan, and frequently flowers his lectures with sports anecdotes, which made me think he may be an interesting interview here on We also have a slew of links and additional information on this interview that take you all over the interesting cross-section of sports, history and US culture.

While this interview may fall outside of the normal scope of the Interview, understanding the connection between a sports team and it's community can be a powerful tool. Using that emotional connection fans have with your team will help you position your team and your game presentation and strengthen the bond.

As Professor Horowitz mentions, many people live through and identify strongly with their teams and favorite players. They connect with the struggles and success of the team. Understanding that connection and tapping into the raw power of its emotions can take the energy and passion of your fans to another level. Today (April 23, 2003) in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer there was a story about the WNBA labor situation. It said, "Throughout American history sports have been a precursor to many culturally changing events," which made me think about what you often spoke about in class in which the military often did the same thing whether it be segregation or the women's movement. [Link to: Locke Seattle PI Story]

Professor Horowitz:
Isn't it interesting, I mean, black people fight in World War II but they are still in segregated units. Then Jackie Robinson comes in 1947 and the military is desegregated in 1948. It went hand in hand. Those are both arenas where you can win acceptance for the people you are a part of, both in the military and athletics. Let's talk about the National Anthem at sporting events. It has been the national anthem since 1931 and that status really was solidified through baseball. [Read the history of the National Anthem in our Additional Information section below.]. Starting as a tribute to those fighting in the first world war in the 1917 World Series, it was then used at every game following.

Horowitz: Yes, that's right. The song that really interests me is God Bless America, especially since September 11th.

It was composed by Irving Berlin around 1938 before the US was involved in the second World War. A lot of people take exception to it because it was kind of reveling in nation patriotism and nationalism. But actually when he wrote the song he was looking at the beginnings of the Holocaust in Nazi Germany - being a Jewish immigrant himself he was saying God bless America that we have this refuge from the atrocities that are happening. He was saying "stand beside her, and guide her."

I am not sure when that song started to gain popularity at sporting events, but singer Kate Smith (famous Irish singer of the early to mid-twentieth century) made the song very famous and it was basically garrisoning the country to deal with World War II, the threat of the Nazis, and Japanese Imperialism, so it really is sort of a "people's song." I thought it was very appropriate when it was recycled after September 11th at sporting events among other places. Was the song understood at the time to have that meaning, or was it more simply patriotism in general?

Horowitz: I think it was God Bless America as a refuge from this insanity, and let's stand together message, which was the exact psychology needed after 9-11. Of course Ronald Reagan also used the phrase "God Bless America" at the end of his speeches as well.

Baseball is very close to the American psyche. An old Professor of mine used to say, "Baseball is a pastoral game based in green fields and endless time. Time is very slow and the drama builds implicitly," unlike football which more mechanized routines of an industrial society. But I think that baseball when it first becomes popular in the early twentieth century really is about the immigrant working class assimilating to society. It was cheap entertainment, it was almost exclusively men, and they smoked, gambled, and did their business. A lot of the early players were Germans and rural Anglo-Protestant, the Irish and then you being to get Italians and some Jewish players.

These players we idolized as the American dream. A guy like Hank Greenburg was a working class Jewish athlete who makes it big, much like Sandy Koufax much later.

Many teams' identities were formed by their make-up. The early Giants were actually kind of an aristocratic team of the early 20th century, whereas the Yankees were actually the working class team of the time in start contrast to when I grew up in the 50's. My mother often said she loved the Yankees for Babe Ruth. Jews saw some Catholics as substitutes, thinking that if Catholics can make it, maybe Jews can. The same pattern you see in sports were also true in politics; where Catholics like John Kennedy did very well with Jewish voters.

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