Following the party's rise to power in 1933, Nazi authorities issued racist legislation that barred Jews, as well as Roma and Sinti people, from participating in many aspects of public life in Germany. Reflected in the Nuremberg Laws of 1935, one aspect of these discriminatory policies was a ban of so-called "non-Aryan" athletes from participation in the upcoming 1936 Berlin Olympics.1
In light of these developments, as well as worries over Nazi Germany's aggressive foreign policy, many Americans began to debate the morality the United States taking part in a competition hosted in Berlin. Some worried about the safety of Jewish-American and Black American athletes;2 others wondered what message American participation might send to democracies around the world.
This piece from a November 26, 1935 issue of The Daily Pennsylvanian, one of the University of Pennsylvania's student newspapers, illustrates the range of opinions surrounding these issues on campuses in the US. Drawing together voices from a diverse group of universities—elite, private schools on the East Coast, as well as public and regional institutions in the Midwest and on the West Coast—contributions were written by the editorial board of each student newspaper. These short pieces all wrestle with what is referred to as "The Olympic Question"—a proposed American boycott of the 1936 Olympics.3
The majority of those quoted in this feature objected to the boycott, endorsing American participation in the Olympics. For many of these students, the United States had no reason to intervene in the "internal situation" of another "sovereign state." To them, Nazi policy was of little importance to the matter at hand—a sports competition. While some students, like those at Yale University, disavowed the Nazi regime, the separation they saw between politics and sports made a boycott pointless.4 Others believed that a boycott could undermine "the purpose and spirit of the games" which promoted "international tolerance."
Many other students grounded their opinions on a belief in the ideals of the Olympic Games. The Ohio State University and University of Cincinnati students cited "sportsmanship" as their primary reason to boycott the games. For these students, Nazi racial discrimination appeared at odds with the sense of friendly competition, cooperation, and mutual respect fostered by the Olympics.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) editorial board, which claimed to have observed no "sign of student sentiment about the question" at all, relayed a more uncommon opinion. While the MIT students say they would not support a boycott, their response suggests that the Olympics were not necessarily a priority for American college students.
Despite the range of views reflected here, the Pennsylvanian's feature suggests that the racist policies of the Nazi regime did not factor heavily into students' views on an Olympic boycott. For many students at American colleges and universities, concerns about sportsmanship and international cooperation outweighed Nazi racism and the treatment of Germany's supposed "racial enemies."