In his new book Playing Tough: The World of Sports and Pol­i­tics, Roger Abrams takes a crit­ical, com­pre­hen­sive, and enter­taining look at the unique role sports have played in pol­i­tics and history.

Abrams, the Richardson Pro­fessor of Law at North­eastern and a leader in the field of sports law, explained that the myriad con­nec­tions between sports and pol­i­tics is much more trans­parent today than in the past. But he noted that the inter­sec­tion of the two fields dates back to the Roman Republic, when those run­ning for posi­tions of power sought favor with the voting masses through sports. Later Roman emperors would hold events for thou­sands of spec­ta­tors to watch glad­i­a­tors clash in the Coliseum.

That was cam­paigning,” Abrams exclaimed. “In pol­i­tics, being pro-​​sports has been a good plat­form, and it has been for 2,000 years.”

Roger Abrams, Richardson Professor of Law

Roger Abrams, Richardson Pro­fessor of Law

Per­haps no polit­ical insti­tu­tion in America is more closely con­nected to sports than the U.S. pres­i­dency, according to Abrams’ analysis. In 1910, William Howard Taft became the first U.S. pres­i­dent to throw out a first pitch at base­ball game, played between the Wash­ington Sen­a­tors and Philadel­phia Ath­letics. Many pres­i­dents have played golf, and others had suc­cessful sporting careers in college.

In his book, Abrams describes the role of sports in the lives of sev­eral U.S. pres­i­dents. Richard Nixon phoned in sug­gested plays to NFL teams; Her­bert Hoover devised his own med­i­cine ball tossing game on the White House grounds; and Pres­i­dent Barack Obama shoots hoops during his spare time—often dis­playing his “sharp elbows” on the court.

Chapter after chapter, the book exam­ines how sports have shaped his­tory across the globe. Abrams’ writing also elo­quently describes both pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive exam­ples of how sports and pol­i­tics have coa­lesced. Chap­ters explore Nelson Mandela’s nation-​​building efforts in South Africa through rugby and boxer Muhammad Ali’s brave refusal to fight in the Vietnam War. He also explains how Hon­duras and El Sal­vador engaged in a brutal four-​​day war in 1969 sparked by riots during World Cup-​​qualifier soccer matches, as well as the rabid nation­alism of the 1936 Nazi Olympics that served as a tran­scen­dent moment when Adolf Hitler was seen as a statesman and built sup­port for Nazi politics.

Over time, Abrams said, sports “have become part of the polit­ical cur­rency.” He said this trend is clearly evi­dent today in the nego­ti­a­tions between busi­nessmen and politi­cians to build new sports sta­diums and relo­cate fran­chises. For example, Abrams out­lines the divi­sive nego­ti­a­tion and approval process to move the Mon­treal Expos fran­chise to Wash­ington D.C., noting that the final public price tag for the Nationals Park was $693 mil­lion and as of 2012 had yet to achieve the eco­nomic devel­op­ment touted during the process.

Sports con­verts to polit­ical cap­ital because people who are in polit­ical posi­tions of power can’t say no,” Abrams said.

The book also sat­is­fied Abrams’ long­time desire to tackle a project that covers the high stakes of both sports and pol­i­tics. Before attending law school, he studied polit­ical sci­ence and gov­ern­ment as an under­grad­uate at Cor­nell Uni­ver­sity, and he’s now written six books exam­ining var­ious topics involved in the busi­ness, law, eco­nomics and social his­tory of sports.

He hopes the book show­cases the indelible con­nec­tion between sports and pol­i­tics in Amer­ican society. “What I want to get across is that with sports, it’s more than a game. It’s part of what we are, and for some it’s the most impor­tant part,” Abrams said.

If the White House played a soft­ball game against a team from Capitol Hill every year, I wouldn’t be sur­prised it were car­ried live on ESPN,” he added. “That’s how much sports is part of who are as a society.”