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Consensus all -American: Sport and the promotion of the American way of life during the Cold War, 1946--1965

Russell E Crawford, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


During the Cold War's first two decades, sport aided American efforts to resist Communism by strengthening the American Way of Life, which became the chief ideological opponent of Soviet Communism. Sport, as an agenda of the American way, promoted individual freedom by championing capitalism, consumerism, absence of manifest class divisions, the “American Dream” of social mobility, and religion. This contrasted with the Soviet vision that offered “from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs,” focused economic production on defense rather than consumer goods, and practiced official atheism. Cold warriors promoted sports such as football, baseball, and basketball to indoctrinate young boys into what it meant to be an American, teaching the importance of courage, teamwork, loyalty, and hard competition. Sport fiction, notably the Chip Hilton series, by legendary basketball coach Clair Bee transmitted this message to the next generation of cold warriors through the exploits of the title hero. This agenda carried such importance for the American way, that when scandal threatened its position, the National Collegiate Athletic Association took strong action, or at least its semblance, to rehabilitate sport's image. The popular culture reflected and supported the NCAA's efforts, and spread its message to the public. Sport also served as a good predictor of American's views on the Cold War, and critics of sport were most often critics of the United State's policies toward the Soviet Union. Cold warriors saw sport as a gateway into the mainstream of American culture, and the entry of black professional athletes such as Jackie Robinson not only provided counter-propaganda material, but also paved the way to a greater role for African-Americans in society. While sport opened doors for minorities, it closed them for women. Sporting opportunities for females declined due to a reluctance to expose girls to the rigors of competition, and a beauty standard that contrasted sharply with the masculine image of Soviet women in the popular culture. ^

Subject Area

History, United States|Recreation

Recommended Citation

Crawford, Russell E, "Consensus all -American: Sport and the promotion of the American way of life during the Cold War, 1946--1965" (2004). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3131539.