The Nickel and Dime Decade: American Popular Culture during the 1930s

By Gary Dean Best | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER SIX Sports

THE DEPRESSION AND SPORTS

Athletics was, sportswriter John Tunis wrote in the early 1930s, "today the religion of the United States," with its own set of idols, "the true gods of the nation." Sports heroes like Babe Ruth and Bobby Jones and Bill Tilden were "the saints of the great American national religion; the religion of sports." 1 How better to distract oneself from the realities of the depression than to enter with thousands of others into the temporary trance of a few hours of sports fanaticism?

Depression pocketbooks inevitably cut attendance at some sports events, especially in the early years of the depression, but Literary Digest observed late in 1933 that the business of having fun seemed to be experiencing a recovery even if not much else was. Attendance at college football games was up that fall. A Princeton-Amherst game had attracted 20,000 fans, and the same number had watched Kansas tie Notre Dame; 60,000 watched as California downed St. Mary's, and 40,000 had seen USC devour Washington State. 2 The University of Hawaii had a fair football team in the 1930s, but they had little success winning games when they ventured to the mainland. They tried to overcome the disadvantage of not having their cheering section with them when they played at UCLA in 1935 by making phonograph records of their fans cheering in Honolulu, and then playing them during the game in Los Angeles. Unfortunately, it didn't help. The Washington Post wrote that they "should have sent the entire student body to Los Angeles to cheer personally, and recruited their football team in Pittsburgh." 3

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