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Politics and Sports: An All-American Matchup

Evening Lecture/Seminar

Thursday, February 17, 2022 - 6:45 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. ET
Code: 1L0446
This program is part of our
Smithsonian Associates Streaming series.
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Jesse Owens on the podium after winning a gold medal at the 1936 Summer Olympics (German Federal Archive/Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 Germany License)

The debate in recent years about the politicization of sports may seem like a new topic, but in fact, these two arenas of American life have been connected for a long time. Historian Kenneth Cohen explores that link, examining a colorful sporting past in which early boxers were funded by political parties and thoroughbreds were used to mobilize voters by turning elections into “races” in the 19th century.

He also looks at how and why reformers at the turn of the 20th century advocated that sports should be separated from politics—a notion, says Cohen, that’s inescapably political. Drawing on fascinating historical anecdotes, Cohen offers a new perspective on the great game of American political hardball.

Cohen is the Edward and Helen Hintz secretarial scholar and curator at the National Museum of American History, the director of the museum studies program at the University of Delaware, and the author of the prize-winning book They Will Have Their Game: Sporting Culture and the Making of the American Republic.

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