Date of Thesis

Spring 2012

Thesis Type

Honors Thesis (Bucknell Access Only)

Department

History

First Advisor

John Enyeart

Keywords

Sports Controversies, Press, Media, Coverage, Newspapers, 1919 Black Sox, 1936 Berlin Olympics, Muhammad Ali

Abstract

This thesis will cover sports controversies throughout the 20th Century in the context of the media’s newspaper coverage of the events. The 1919 Black Sox Scandal, the debate over American participation in the 1936 Olympics, and Muhammad Ali’s conversion to the Nation of Islam, standing as a notorious public figure, and conscientious objection to the Vietnam War will represent the three sports controversies. The media’s adherence to cultural norms is clear in all three cases. The consistent devotion to the cultural and racial atmosphere of their respective eras was constant and helped to perpetuate accepted, mainstream cultural attitudes. Cultural and racial norms were followed in the coverage of the three discussed controversies. The anti-Semitism and racially intolerant sentiments in America during great waves of immigration in the early 1900s allowed for journalists to freely vilify Jews as corrupters of baseball and the ballplayers who were rumored to have thrown the 1919 World Series. The white ballplayers were supported in the press, who protected their own and blamed outsiders. Jim Crow and the Americanization movement forced African American and Jewish newspapers to limit their journalistic bias on both sides of the debate over American participation in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. The white, mainstream press was void of bias as the spirit of isolationism in America triumphed over journalist’s leanings in the Olympic debate. The racial tension created by the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s created an atmosphere that allowed mainstream journalists to heap endless criticism on Muhammad Ali as he gained fame. By portraying him as a villain of society as both a religious radical and traitor to America, journalists created a common enemy in the minds of white America. In all three cases, a pattern of journalists expressing the state of cultural and racial norms of the era is present and significant.

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