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ONWARD TO VICTORY by Murray Sperber

ONWARD TO VICTORY

The Crisis that Shaped College Sports

By Murray Sperber

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-8050-3865-5
Publisher: Henry Holt

Sperber (English and American Studies/Indiana Univ.; Shake Down the Thunder, 1993, etc.) again chips away at the sacred mythic core of college sports. Beginning with the George Gipp/Knute Rockne legend so carefully crafted by Hollywood in the 1940 film Knute Rockne, All American, and moving onward through the decades, the author demonstrates that this surpassing bit of lore served as the bedrock for a massive sham: the myth of the “scholar-athlete.” Sperber shows how, before the Rockne film, college athletes were widely perceived as violent, disloyal, drunken brutes. In support of this, he cites 1920s sportswriters such as Westbrook Pegler and Damon Runyon’scribes forming a decidedly unsentimental school of pundits whom Sperber calls the “Aw-Nuts” men—and such films as the 1930s Marx Brothers’ romp, Horse Feathers, as examples of the low regard in which schoolboy athletes were held. Sperber also details a withering litany of scandals in gambling, cheating, recruitment, and more over the years—e.g., the Kentucky and CCNY basketball point-shaving contretemps of the late ’40s-early ’50s and the Army testing scandal of 1951, to name two. However, many misdeeds, according to the author, stemmed not from athletes’ inherent lawlessness, but from a corrupt system that made money hand over fist while strictly enforcing players’ amateurism. The “antidote” to college sports’ corrupt ways came not in the form of sincere self-regulation, but was induced by journalists, promoters, producers, and university publicity flacks. —Shocking— is the word that best describes the depth and breadth of the complicity—from Hollywood, from magazines that breathlessly anointed college footballer heroes, and from Madison Avenue types who crafted program covers that proselytized (and propagandized) about college athletics as a pure, noble, and, above all, American pursuit. A scathing reminder that the “good old days” in college sports never were. (24 b&w photos, not seen)