Teacher's Guide: Sporting Fever

Competitive sports begin to attract large crowds in the early 1900s, as people attain more money and leisure time. Recognizing the growing popularity of sports, political leaders use it to manipulate national identities and patriotism, sometimes leading to bitter rivalry.

Unit Themes and Topics:
famous athletes
national identity
the rise of Nazism
sports and popular culture

Connections Across History
connection: when: where: program:
rise of movies as mass entertainment 1895-1964 France, Great Britain India, Italy, United States "Great Escape"
Nazi Germany 1926-1945 Germany "Master Race"

Anna Daube Freund
(baseball fan, United States

"We would go to ball games rather than movies. . . Actually you didn't have [the home run] until [Babe Ruth] started and it was amazing. And [the home run] was wonderful to watch because it was always so graceful."
photographic portrait of Anna Daube Freund


Before Watching

1. As a class, create a list of the values that sports teams represent to fans. Consider local, state, and national teams. How do fans express their loyalty to these teams?

2. As students watch the program, have them take notes on why sports became important to the speakers and why the speakers identified with particular teams.

After Watching

1. Why do you think spectator sports became so popular in the early 1900s? How and why did individuals and nations identify with sports teams and athletes?

2. Why did the speakers in the program care about sports or identify strongly with particular teams or athletes? Do you think athletes and sports fans feel the same way about their teams today? Why or why not?

3. Why did people admire Joe Louis and Babe Ruth? How did these athletes reflect contemporary American values? What athletes today do people consider admirable? What qualities do people admire in these athletes? Do you agree that these athletes are admirable? Why or why not?


Have students write an essay about the relationship between sports and social values. They may want to consider recent issues and events, such as the unequal treatment of women in collegiate and national sports, drug use by athletes, the escalation of violence on and off the field, etc. They may also want to consider earlier issues and events, such as the racial integration of major league baseball, boxer Muhammad Ali's decision not to serve in Vietnam, or the 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs. Ask students to explain in their essays how the issue or event both reflected current social issues and inspired widespread discussions about national values.

FOCUS: Propaganda at the 1936 Olympics

The following lesson focuses on a program segment in which Adolf Hitler showcases Nazism at the 1936 Olympics. American, British, and German athletes describe their experiences

Program Segment
approximately 8 minutes

Athletes arrive in Berlin for the 1936 Olympics.

Robert Mitchell describes the 1936 Olympics closing ceremonies.


Before Watching

1. Have you ever felt caught up in the emotions of a group or crowd, for example at a party or a concert? What did you do? What do you think caused your response? How do you think Robert Mitchell felt at the moment he describes in the following quotation? "The Olympic flame went out and then there was utter silence and utter darkness. . . . And that was when a hundred thousand people were going, 'Sieg heil! Sieg heil!' I literally put my hands in my pockets to stop myself being hypnotized into doing it with them."

2. Ask students who watched recent Olympic games to think about how they felt as they watched. What teams or individuals did they root for? How did they feel when those athletes won or lost? As students watch the program, ask them to think about what their reactions might have been if they had been spectators at the 1936 Olympics.

After Watching

1. What emotions do you think the athletes and audience felt when they watched Hitler's display of Nazi unity and power at the 1936 Olympics?

2. Why do you think Hitler wanted to display Germany's prosperity, strength, and unity to the rest of the world? Why do you think he viewed Jesse Owens's victory as a defeat for the Nazis? Why do you think he considered it a greater defeat than Helen Stephens's victory?

3. Imagine that it is 1936; World War II has not happened yet. If you were an American journalist covering the 1936 Olympics, what positive or negative impressions would you have of Nazi Germany? What techniques did the Nazis use to create these impressions?


Discuss professional athletes' public images, the values and attitudes students share with these athletes, and how students learned that these values and attitudes are admirable. Then have students bring in advertisements that include sports images or athletes.

After everyone has examined the advertisements, discuss the following questions: Who is each advertisement's target audience? What values, ideas, or behaviors are associated with the product and how? How does the advertisement seek to persuade the viewer to buy the product? What messages does the advertisement convey about values in our society? What are the similarities, if any, between advertising and propaganda?

Program Summary

Use the following information to assist in finding specific segments within the program. The times listed on the left indicate minutes into the program.

00:00 Intro -- 1908 Olympics in London. Troops back from Great War. Growth in "free time" and need for recreation. Boxing biggest sport; women mostly excluded.

03:00 1920 -- Jack Dempsey Championship fight vs. Carpentier in a huge stadium built for the fight.

08:30 Baseball in the 20's (Babe Ruth, Yankees Stadium). Popularity grows with the home run and glamour of the profession. Athletes as celebrities.

14:30 England, post WWI -- Soccer was by and for the working man, and often the only entertainment available.

19:30 1923 -- Soccer riots at new Wembley stadium.

22:00 British bring soccer to Uruguay. International growth.

25:00 1930 World Cup -- Uruguay against Argentina. National identity tied to soccer. Teams represent nations; spills over into international politics. Diplomatic relations break off.

31:00 Soviet Union, Italy -- Sports used to boost national self-image and as a propaganda tool.

33:00 Boxing -- Schmelling - Louis match. Capitalism used to break color barrier for blacks in main-stream sports. Racial pride at stake for African Americans and Germans.

40:00 1946 -- 11th Olympics in Berlin. Carefully orchestrated by Nazis for propaganda. Imperial spectacle. Athletes as soldiers.

48:30 1938 -- Boxing: Louis/Schmelling rematch (6/23/38). Louis wins, becoming new symbol for U.S. Millions watch match. Sports enter electronic age of TV, radio.

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