I have never looked at sports as a balancing factor in American society. Sure, it can bring the entire country together, i.e., the super bowl that brings in billions of viewers every year, but I dont believe I have seen sports act as this great divider in my lifetime. As the article points out, in the past, it has been used to divide people, the civilized vs. the uncivilized, the tough vs. the weak, black vs. white.
It surprised me that boxing was a nonsegregated sport when so many others were. It seems like throughout American history, it has teeter-tottered between being favorable and unfavorable to white society. It is favorable when white men are using it as a platform to prove themselves as the toughest defenders. Yet it is unfavorable when African Americans or immigrant groups box and beat their white challengers; then, it is considered a barbaric and savage act.
This was Teddy Roosevelt’s outlook on the sport. Roosevelt boxed in college and continued to do so up until his presidency. He was part of a growing Victorian, upper-class movement to “loosen up” men who had been trapped in the effeminate virtues of the time. By boxing, men could prove their manliness and place in the social hierarchy of the time while still remaining civilized members of the upper class.
But when Jack Johnson beat Jim Jeffries, white Americans everywhere, including Roosevelt, spoke out against the sport. Roosevelt was right about one thing, though; boxing did promote race antagonism. One could only imagine the type of threats and violence that Jack Johnson faced after he beat Jeffries in 1910. No white person at the time, especially those in the Jim Crow South, would accept this outcome. While there are other sports that men can use to prove themselves to one another, boxing is one that’s at the top of that list.
During the late 1800s/early 1900s, boxing was not only a chance for men to prove themselves to be superior to women, but it was also a chance for white men to prove themselves as a superior race to black men.