Sport And Politics: Jackie Robinson And Eugen Sandow

When it comes to the idea of sport and understanding it’s connection to physical culture, it is important to know that politics and economics are a part of sport. Physical culture includes all physical activity as well as health in order to provide a bigger perspective. Physical culture and society have what is called a dialectical relationship; this means that “physical culture has an influence on and reflects the society that it is a part of and vice versa. It is a product and a producer of society” (Friedman, 2019). What happens in sport has an effect on the society it is in, and what happens in society is reflected in sport. Sport has always acted as a platform for societal issues, it was a way groups could express their views to the public, and in turn societal norms and perspectives tend to shift. This paper will examine Jackie Robinson’s story as well as Eugen Sandow’s in order to explain the relationship between sport and politics.

Avery Brundage, President of the Olympic Committee said “sport, like music and other fine arts, transcends politics... We are concerned with sports, not business and politics”, he refers to sport as a performance and that it is a more talent-based concept. Things such as business, politics and economics are not and should not be involved and people should be focusing on the athletes’ performances. This implies that sport and physical culture do not follow the dialectic thesis and that sport and society have no relation. Because he was the president of the games at the time, his main goal was to promote the Olympics as a way of uniting countries in a peaceful manner. Though his statement promotes the main idea of the Olympics, the implication that sport and societal factors are not connected is false, in fact, sport has a huge impact on society and vice versa.

Political economy analyzes political institutions, social structures, and the economy in order to better define the relationships (Friedman, 2019). One of the major relationships presented within the idea of political economy is political domination and economic exploitation. Political domination is when dominant group at the time holds most, if not all, of the power. This allows them to shift the societal norms and views through coercion. It is the ability to use the power to get what is desired. Those who dominate politically get to choose the narrative that is presented to the public, they get to choose the dominate opinion. With this idea of political dominance has a significant tie to economic exploitation. Economic exploitation is the use other people/ideas for monetary gain or for the improvement of one’s economy. Those who have political dominance often play a role in economic exploitation due to their power. Those that are politically dominate are in control of the means of production and are able to dictate how the wealth is distributed.

Brundage says that sport exceeds politics and that there is no relation, but this statement is false. Many aspects of sport are heavily influenced by politics. Jackie Robinson is a prime example of how politics and sport are related. Jackie Robinson was the first African American to play Major League Baseball, many honor him as a martyr. They only see the quiet and reserved side of his story, they Jackie that was able to shake off the insults and discrimination. What they did not see is the politically active and outspoken character he was. Jackie was one of the first to fight for civil rights. When he was in the Army, he had an incident that caused him to be honorably discharged. He was on the bus heading to a hospital to get clearance and had sat next to a lighter-skinned African American woman that he had known through a friend. He was asked to move due to the fact she looked white and he refused and he was eventually court-martialed. He was a very outspoken individual, even before he had become politically involved.

Robinson was offered to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers in the midst of the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement and the team had been feeling the pressure of society to sign an African American player. Because Jackie was so outspoken, especially when it came to politics, Branch Rickey had the condition that he was to stay quiet and calm when it came to the discriminatory comments and insults that would arise. Though Robinson felt that it would be hard to turn the other cheek, he knew that it was what was best in order to break the color barrier in baseball. With this, the Dodgers were able to use Jackie to their economic advantage. They were able to promote him and the team in order to gain the African American audience in other areas of the country as well as market the fact that they were the first team to sign an African American. They were able to win the National League pennant, this in turn boosted their image.

After baseball, Robinson became heavily involved in politics. He was very passionate when it came to African American representation and rights within the baseball world. He made it a point that African Americans should have opportunities to work in management positions and other upper level jobs. He would speak on it whenever he had the chance and made it his goal to promote equal opportunities for all, he continued to actively challenge those that were politically dominant in society until the day he died. Many people today honor this notion, This Jackie Robinson is not as talked about, but is a prime example as to how sport and politics are related. What happens politically can have a big impact when it comes to sporting events and systematic structure. This in turn can affect the athletes and cause them to become involved in those same politics and reinforce this relationship.

Another way that physical culture had a significant impact on reinforcing the idea of economic exploitation was Eugen Sandow. Eugen Sandow was a ‘strongman’ whose passion was health and fitness. He was able to market his own body as a means of gaining publicity, many were fascinated with his body. Many were intrigued by him and his body, they were willing to pay He was able to promote his own products, with his name on them, because of his status in society. This relates to Hardy’s state of sport being/becoming a commodity. Sandow was concerned with the “goods” aspect of this statement. Sporting goods, such as equipment and facilities were the fastest growing part of sport becoming a commodity (Hardy, 1986). Sando was able to promote the equipment with his name to many while he was his tour. As he went on a tour to further promote himself, he was able to associate himself with royals and the upper class. In turn, his audience gained more interest and felt he was an important and credible figure due to his connections to the elite. He was able to use other bodybuilders and athletes to help boost his sales as well. Because of Sandow’s exploitation of his own body and regimes, the fitness industry is one of the most popular industries to date.

Avery Brundage said that “sport, like music and other fine arts, transcends politics... We are concerned with sports, not business and politics” but this statement is false, the implication that sport can be detached from things such as politics and economy will never be true. Sport and society have always had an impact on one another. Whatever was happening in society was directly reflected when it came to sport and vice versa. It is vital to study physical culture and the dynamics and relationships within it to understand concepts like the long residuals, or the analyzation of continuities and discontinuities in history. It is essential to know the discontinuities in order to fully understand all perspectives and to understand the parts that were left out. Usually the parts left out are the parts that are unappealing to the intended audience or it paints a country in a bad light, but in history everything needs to be brought into the light in order to truly learn from the past and to apply those lessons to conflicts today or those that may arise in the future.


  • Burns, S. (2017). Seeking a more authentic Jackie Robinson, in W.M. Simons (ed.), The Cooperstown Symposium on Baseball and American Culture, 2015-2016 (pp. 20-29). Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company.
  • Friedman, M. (2019). Fitness Industry [PowerPoint Slides]. Retrieved from /courses/1268891/files/53920015?module_item_id=9712123
  • Friedman, M. (2019). Introduction [ PowerPoint Slides]. Retrieved from /courses/ 1268891/files/folder/Module%201%20%20Historiography/Lectures? preview=53499639
  • Friedman, M. (2019). Intro to Political Economy [ PowerPoint Slides]. Retrieved from https://um
  • Hardy, S. (1986). Entrepreneurs, organizations and the sport marketplace. Journal of Sport History, 13(1), 14-33.
16 December 2021
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