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Media Representations of African American Athletes in Cold War Japan

Yu Sasaki

Media Representations of African American Athletes in Cold War Japan addresses the cross-cultural dialogue between Black America and Japan that was enabled through sports during the Cold War era. This topic has hitherto received little scholarly attention in both American studies and sports studies. After World War II, Cold War tensions pulled African American athletes to the center stage and initiated their international mobility. They served as both athletic Cold Warriors and embodiments of a colorblind American democracy. This book focuses on sports in the Cold War era as a significant battlefield that operated as an ideologically and racially contested terrain. Yu Sasaki argues that one of the most crucial Cold War racial contacts occurred through sports in Asia, and particularly, in Japan. The mobility of African American athletes captured the attention of the Japanese media, which created unique narratives of sports and race in US-occupied Japan after World War II. Adopting an approach that integrates the archival and interpretive, Sasaki analyzes the ways in which sports, highlighted by the media, became a terrain where discourses of race, gender, and even disability were significantly modified. This book draws on both English and non-English language sources, including Japanese print media archives such as newspapers, magazines, posters, pamphlets, diaries, bulletins, and school textbooks.

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Chapter Two: The Tigerbelles of Tennessee State University: Race, Gender, and the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games



The Tigerbelles of Tennessee State University

Race, Gender, and the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games

There is spirit, tradition, and a powerful motivation to achieve that somehow captured women athletes who made the Tigerbelle team. What made a Tigerbelle was something besides the ability to run. One of the first lessons she learned was that she was “a lady first” and a “track lady second.” The emphasis was on femininity, not building muscles.

— Michael D. Davis, Black American Women in Olympic Track and Field (1992)

At the opening ceremony of the Summer Olympics on October 10, 1964, a large flock of doves flew up into the sky in Tokyo, Japan.1 Despite the emphasis on world peace symbolized by these doves, Cold War tensions were taking center stage even in the realm of sports, dominating media coverage of the first Olympic Games ever held in Asia.2

In the runup to the 1964 Olympics, athletes from the United States and the Soviet Union fiercely competed for supremacy. Senior U.S. government officials acknowledged the political significance of the Olympics. In a July 1964 article in Sports Illustrated, U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy noted the national implications of athletic success: “Part of a nation’s prestige in the cold war is won in the Olympic Games.”3 Indeed, the 1964 Tokyo Olympics were not immune to Cold War politics, as communist or pro-Communist Asian countries, including the People’s Republic of China,...

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