Matthew Andrews is a UNC sports historian who studies the links between athletics and American culture and history. He earned his doctorate from Chapel Hill in 2009 and currently serves as an advisor and lecturer for the Department of History.
Staff writer Ziyad Habash interviewed Andrews in anticipation of the event at Bull's Head Bookstore today by Sports Illustrated senior writer Alexander Wolff on his book,"The Audacity of Hoop: Basketball and the Age of Barack Obama."
The Daily Tar Heel: What are the links between high-level politics and sports?
Matthew Andrews: The links are long standing and persistent, so I teach a course called "Sport and American History," and in this course we talk about the links between politicians and athleticism, politicians and displays of power, and I go all the way back to the ancient Greeks, and then actually a little bit further, to ancient Egypt when pharaohs demonstrated their athletic prowess.
We talk about the idea of the citizen soldier in ancient Greece and how politicians would link themselves to certain chariot racers, so there is a long tradition of this. In the United States — I guess it goes back to Teddy Roosevelt — the president at the start of the 20th century who is explicitly making these arguments that sports prepare young men to be leaders, particularly strenuous sports like football and boxing, and coincidentally, Roosevelt played football and was a boxer at Harvard. So the idea is that the physical prowess — this force, power, this martial spirit, and all the things you learn in sports, the masculinity — all of these things prepare you to govern.
DTH: And Hillary Clinton isn’t playing basketball.
MA: Certainly, it raises the question 'Is there an activity that Hillary will shine a light on?' It is interesting, and look, Hillary Clinton came of age in a time when women were not allowed to play sports. So perhaps female politicians in the future, who grew up post-Title IX, will have to display their own athletic credentials.
DTH: If sports are a display of power, as the presidency is now interested primarily in basketball, what nationwide shifts of power does that speak of?
MA: Certainly, football is the sport that lots of presidents have played — Theodore Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower. Very famously, Eisenhower was an excellent football player at Army.