Professor David Horowitz Connects Sports and History (continued)
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Gameops.com: Talk about what sports meant to Americans in the difficult times like war or the Great Depression.

Horowitz: PBS did a brilliant piece this week on Seabiscuit exactly to the point you are making. This horse from California was seen as the "people's horse." Horse racing was the major sport of the late 30's and the depression. Seabiscuit was going up against the thoroughbred from the east, and it was a whole class thing. Seabiscuit had barely lost at Santa Anita and then broke a bone and had the recoup. Then his jockey was almost killed and had to recoup. They arrive at this Maryland racetrack for the showdown and the entire country is watching. 30 million people were listening on the radio to him win the race.

People were living through that horse. That horse represents me, an ordinary person, up against the odds and all the calamities that have happened. If this horse could do it, maybe there is hope for me. The idea that sports is a metaphor for people's struggles.

[Read more on Seabuscuit in our Additional Information section below]

I know I personally identify with many athletes and their struggles. I identify with athlete's will to succeed. When they were talking of Jordan and his champions' competitor with the soul of a bull, that's the way I like to see of myself in my arena: being highly competitive. I take inspiration from Michael Jordan because of his incredible discipline and energy. To me sports is a metaphor, a theatricality of life, of us garrison our energies to accomplish things against great odds. It's interesting that sports are also filled with disappointment. Statistically most people lose in sports. There is only one champion. In baseball you are a huge success if you get a hit in 3 out of 10 at bats, and I love that.

Gameops.com: Is today's athlete significantly different than those in the past? One example might be Michael Jordan, whose greatness would be comparable to Muhammad Ali in his prime. At that time Ali used his fame as a bully pulpit on social and cultural issues, including his anti-war stance. Now it would seem many like Jordan protect their image so not to damage their position as product spokespeople.

Horowitz: It was a different time, more than a different athlete. I think you could argue on Michael Jordan that his strategy isn't unlike Magic Johnson's before him. That is to succeed in a corporate way as a way of further paving the way for blacks to reach full acceptance in American life through his demeanor and discipline.

Magic has a Coca-Cola distributorship in Washington DC, movie theatres in LA and so forth. It's an inclusion kind of thing. I know Jordan agonized a bit over the Nike issue about overseas working conditions.

I think mostly it's just a different time period. The same polarizing issues are just not out there.

Gameops.com: I was looking for more of those connections between sports and history. I read an interesting note about Ping Pong Diplomacy during the Nixon administration.

Horowitz: Sure, that was an easy and convenient way to open some doors. A ping-pong tournament paved the way for higher level talks and a beginning for a thawing out for US/China relations. It was harmless, and it served its purpose.

The Olympics is also an interesting story. We boycotted the 1980 Olympics in Moscow over the Soviet Union invasion of Afghanistan.

In general I have problems with the Olympics. I like the idea of athletes coming together from around the world, but it has become so competitive and nationalistic. It seems way out of proportion. To me, you are not a great hero if you win a hockey game. It means they are great hockey players - it's not exactly patriotic.

Gameops.com: Do you see any benefit from the sports competitions in opening diplomatic doors?

Horowitz: It often seems to exacerbate the international relations - like the French and the Canadians in ice skating last time. I don't know, it seems too competitive, something that was supposed to be in the spirit of sports is now just a bit too commercialized.

Gameops.com: In 1972 Howard Cosell gave a controversial interview (like most of his interviews) where he challenged the overt patriotism displayed at sporting events. Including the comment: "I don't equate professional football, major-league baseball or any other sport in this country with motherhood, apple pie and patriotism." (PEI, May 1972). How did sports and the war connect during the Vietnam era, and would comments like this have had any resonance with peace advocates, or were sports just outside the debate at that time?

Horowitz:
I remember I was at a Twins' game in 1965 and they had people being inducted into the military and I think a bunch of our group of grad students refused to stand up, which I would never do nor have I thought to do since, but we were really offended that the sports event was being used to what we thought as glamorizing the Vietnam War. We were really upset about it. So, yes, I think it would have been the position of many in the anti-war movement that that kind of pro-military patriotism doesn't belong at a sporting event.

Now I think that the September 11th reaction wasn't so much patriotism in the militaristic sense, it was that we were hurt as a people and we were bonding together. The symbol of our way of life and how we care for each other is the American flag. It represents the sacrifices people have made for the relative life of freedom we have. So I disagree with almost everyone I know about the wave of patriotism that followed September 11th at sporting events and elsewhere. I saw it as healthy. September 11th was an attack against the people, not the government or the power structure, the Twin Towers or the Pentagon. Americans perceived that as an attack on "people" like themselves.

The coming together was an inter-people kind of thing, which some of the intellectual class was not a part of.

I don't know about military fly-over's, but honoring the flag or returning servicemen, police, or fire fighters is all sort of communitarian bonding.

Sporting events are part of the rituals of our American culture.

Read how the Toronto Blue Jays followed this community model recently in response to the SARS scare

"The Blue Jays' parent company, Rogers Communications Inc., said it wants to "bring the community together at SkyDome...to show its support for the city of Toronto."

Thanks to David Horowitz for an always engaging class and for his time sharing his thoughts for this interview. This interview was really enjoyable, including what you see here and the wide-ranging conversation that followed.

Thanks also to Wendell Maxey for his consideration and contributions.

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