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Collection Stars and Stripes: The American Soldiers' Newspaper of World War I, 1918 to 1919

The Sports Page

"Uncle Sam Pinch Hitting on Western Front." Newspaper headline. The Stars and Stripes, April 5, 1918, p. 6, top.

The Stars and Stripes sports page covered professional sports like other United States newspapers, but also carried news of American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) athletic events at the war front. In addition, the editors used sports terminology and slang in covering the war effort. Headlines such as "Allies Ahead in Big Extra Inning Battle" (April 26, 1918, p.6)* and "Huns May Request Waivers on Kaiser" (April 12, 1918, p. 6) appeared regularly across the top of the sports page, reporting a war event as if it were an athletic event. On occasion, this even occurred in the news headlines on the paper's front page. On February 22, 1918, the lead headline on the cover page was "World's Series Opened--Batter Up!" A large photograph of a doughboy with a hand grenade appeared below that, accompanied by a poem with the opening, "The outfield is a-creepin' in to catch the Kaiser's pop, and here's a southpaw twirler with a lot of vim and hop!" (p. 1, col. 3).

Even though sports news was provided for the soldiers at the front, the editorial board published reminders throughout the war that the soldiers themselves, not the professional athletes, were the real heroes of the day. Popular sports heroes who failed to enlist were chastised in editorials such as this March 15, 1918, commentary on the Frank Moran-Fred Fulton boxing match: "As a matter of news, we printed in full the account of the Moran-Fulton boxing bout and gave it all the prominence as a sporting event it deserved. . . . An athlete with the extraordinary reach of a Fulton should be a mighty handy man with a bayonet. . . . It is no excuse for a fighting man to plead that service in the AEF would separate him from his family and a fat income. . . . A trained athlete, particularly one who has had the opportunity to lay away a tidy fortune at fighting, owes it to his country to do something in return. As we see it, Messieurs Fulton and Moran are anything but heroes" (p. 4, col. 2).

After the paper's twenty-fourth issue, sports coverage abruptly ceased. The editorial board justified the cancellation of the sports page in a statement in the July 26, 1918 issue: "This is the last Sporting Page The Stars and Stripes will print until an Allied victory brings back peace. . . . There is but one Big League today for this paper to cover--and that league winds its way among the S.O.S. stations scattered throughout France and ends at the western front. . . . There is no space left for the Cobbs, the Ruths, the Johnsons . . . when the Ryans, the Smiths, the Larsens, the Bernsteins and others are charging machine guns and plugging along through shrapnel. . . . the glorified, the commercialized, the spectatorial sport of the past has been burnt out by the gun fire. The sole slogan left is 'Beat Germany.'" (p. 6, col. 1)

It was not until after the Armistice that sports coverage returned to The Stars and Stripes, with a new page focusing on local AEF athletic events. A headline of the post-Armistice sports page read "Army Elevens Ready for Great Football Battle" (March 14, 1919, p. 6). The military actively promoted sporting events between units as helpful in keeping soldiers physically fit and boosting unit cohesion and morale. Based on the amount of coverage they received, baseball, football, track, and boxing appear to have been the most popular sports among the troops.

*Unless otherwise noted all references are to The Stars and Stripes.