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First Essay


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First Essay

  1. 1. Rode 1 Tyler Rode Marc Horger KNSISM 2210 27 October 2016 Pre-Civil War Sport Participation: Not All Fun and Games Sport fulfills a wide variety of purposes in the life spans of people across different cultures, backgrounds, and physical and mental capacities. Whether consciously or subconsciously, people use sport to fill voids in their lives ̶ voids which also differ greatly on a person-to-person basis, which may include, but are not limited to gaps in a person’s self- determined physical condition, self-acceptance, sense of adventure, or enjoyment of their daily agenda. Though sport fulfills a variety of purposes on an individual basis, American men living in cities before the Civil War primarily engaged in sport for one reason: to publically portray themselves as manly. Although pre-Civil War American men engaged in sport with the same end goal for the most part, the concept of manliness in which they were focused on displaying changed drastically over the course of the roughly 80 years between the establishment of this great nation and the Civil War which so intensely divided it. During the time period surrounding the start of the American Revolution, a large movement known as Republicanism swept the nation, linking the definition of American maleness with the central concepts of simplicity and plainness. As the conflicts leading up to the American Revolution grew, Americans became more and more resentful toward all things which even remotely resembled the British Empire. Americans became so fed up with the British rule that they decided not only to develop an entirely separate and different form of government in the form of a Republic, they also decided that in order for their nation to succeed, they must base their nation’s very virtues on the polar opposite of those which they observed from the Brits.
  2. 2. Rode 2 Hence, American males used the entirety of their efforts to portray themselves in as plain and simple a fashion as possible, in contrast to the aristocratic extravagance that they observed from their British counterparts, which they believed lead this immense nation to its eventual decay. This culture of associating American maleness with simplicity and anti-extravagance is demonstrated in the efforts of the nation’s very influential political policy-makers. The First Continental Congress’ purely male representation is very indicative of the male thought process of the time, with the heads of American policy demonstrating the focus of not only Americans at the time, but more specifically, American men was based in these concepts of simplicity and plainness. As Benjamin Rader notes in his textbook, American Sports: From the Age of Folk Games to the Age of Televised Sports, “The [male-led] First Continental Congress, meeting in 1774 when war with the Mother Country loomed on the horizon, resolved that the colonies ‘discountenance and discourage every species of extravagance and dissipation, especially all horse-racing, and all kinds of gaming, cock fighting, exhibition of shows, plays, and other expensive diversions and amusements’” (16). Although America’s policy-makers gave their best attempts to ban these believed extravagant spectacles of sport, the force of these various sports as void-filling activities were too strong, and Americans continued on with the sports to which they had grown accustomed. Sports including horse racing carried on, but not without adopting the new mindset behind every American male of plainness and simplicity prevalent around every turn. Several northern states successfully passed legislation to ban horse racing, in an effort to prevent the spread of the aristocratic ways which plagued the British Empire (Adelman 7). While this ban of horse racing decreased the popularity of the ‘elaborate, aristocratic’ sport of thoroughbred racing as desired, it did not entirely bring a halt to the world of horse racing, as it likely just stemmed the growth of a new form of horse racing known as trotting. In this increasingly popular form of
  3. 3. Rode 3 horse racing, American men were able to display traits that were now deemed ‘inherently male’ like simplicity and plainness, as they were now so deeply entrenched in American culture. As Melvin Adelman points out in “The First Modern Sport in America: Harness Racing in New York City, 1825-1870,” “[Trotting] did not require the capital outlay of thorough-bred racing. The trotter was not a “pure breed,” but rather a horse drawn from the common stock that had the ability to trot. The plebian horses that engaged in these road races, moreover, were almost always used by their owners in their day-to-day activities” (8). In other words, trotting allowed American men to enjoy the thrill of racing horses, while still allowing them to show off the fact that they were racing less expensive, plain, everyday horses, in order to display their Republican virtues, and hence, their American maleness. In the early 1800s, the concept of ‘American maleness’ began to expand rapidly, along with an increase in immigration into the states, with many different cultures now merging under one American roof. As the number of differing people in one mass of land grew larger and larger, American males began to organize themselves into smaller groups based on their wide variety of interests and to improve their sense of belonging. Hundreds of volunteer fire companies were started from men across multiple ethnicities and job titles in order to not only serve their function as fire extinguishing units in their prospective cities, but also for Americans to organize themselves into factions in which they could hold common ground with others in the developing melting pot of differences among neighbors (Rader 30). Sparring clubs for pugilists and jockey clubs for equestrians began to spring up all over the nation in order for American men to find their niches in a nation now overflowing with diversity (Gorn 48; Adelman 9). In this new culture of public joining, American men demonstrated that they belonged in the category of ‘American male’ by joining these groups, and a variety of them at that. I emphasize that this public joining displays masculinity because these various clubs and
  4. 4. Rode 4 groups were all established by influential men of their prospective time periods. Men were exclusively involved in participation in sport in order to fulfill their cultural characteristic expectations which dated back to the 17th century of grace, power, and agility. Women, in the meantime, were culturally expected to remain healthy, mobile, and familiar with the rules and regulations of sport, but to stay on the proverbial and literal sidelines of these “sports of men” (Struna 121). Men demonstrated these expectedly inherent traits of masculinity through the entire gamut of sport available to them in their prospective time periods, from boxing to horse racing and even baseball. In boxing, men demonstrated their power by striking one another until the other man developed black eyes and split lips, and still the fights continued (Gorn 27). Grace exemplified in their precise strikes, foot movement, and perseverance shown in getting up every time the boxers fell, as was the case of Simon Byrne who did so time and time again through a ninety-eight round bout in 1833 until he could no longer stand and eventually took his last breath in the ring to display his manliness (Gorn 42). As for horse racing, owners of horses were able to display their power in society through the observable fact that they were in solid enough economic standing to own and take care of such an expense, while trotters were still able to display their inherently male, Republican values of simplicity by purchasing non-aristocratic, non-thoroughbred horses (Adelman 11). Baseball players put their grace on display through their attention and care with which they attended to every aspect of the game: from the players of the opposing teams to the umpires and the rules of the game itself (Goldstein 18). One could not participate in sport in this now established public joining culture without exemplifying American masculinity. During the early to mid-19th century, the concept of American manliness was built upon even further with sudden bursts of religious piety which arose through a period of Revivalism in the United States. As Protestantism atrophied, a Perfectionist view emerged, in which Americans
  5. 5. Rode 5 believed that the spiritual fate of a person correlated with that same person’s actions. Many Americans developed the belief that right moral actions would lead to their eventual salvation and that individual self-control was central to public morality (Rader 23-24). This idea of self- control became a major focus in American society, to the point in which this Perfectionist ideal became ingrained into the definition of American maleness. In fact, as Rader mentions in his textbook, American Sports: From the Age of Folk Games to the Age of Televised Sports, “Until late in the nineteenth century, proper manliness… entailed hard work, good moral character, and self-control” (25). American men thus used the familiar, daily activities around them to demonstrate this new ideal of American male subculture, activities which included popular and developing sports of the time, sports including baseball. American men who engaged in the pursuit of baseball and baseball-related activities exhibited self-control through their development of, and adherence to, a set of rules established to maintain the integrity of the game and all of those involved in it. These rules included policies against swearing, arguing with umpires, and disobeying the team captain which were enforced via fines for their disobedience. (Goldstein 35). The game of baseball was rooted in the manly ideal of self-control, making it impossible for anyone to participate in this game without radiating masculinity. Although American men participated in sport prior to the Civil War to display their masculinity, as I previously stated, people participate in sport for a wide variety of reasons, so it is understandable and even expected for one to argue that these men may have been primarily engaging in sport for some other reason. One may argue that these men’s main purpose in partaking in sport activities was to use it as an escape from their otherwise busy and labor- intensive lives and evoke a sense of joy that may be otherwise absent from their lives. In fact, Nancy Struna would likely present the argument that people have had a preference of leisure activities such as sport over work dating back to the English in the 1600s. As American society
  6. 6. Rode 6 develops through its roots in the English colonies, workers begin working longer hours, and become more and more production-focused, leaving them longing for the leisure activities and a break from production, which the world of sport offers them (Struna 25, 55). Although this ‘leisure preference’ that Struna alludes to does appear to be a driving factor behind sport participation prior to the Civil War, the development of sport into a commercialized industry presents a major flaw in the argument that these American men were partaking in sport activities primarily for the fun of it. As society continues to develop, sports begin to commercialize across the spectrum in the United States. Horse racing, boxing, and baseball are among the sports that encounter the “enclosure movement,” with each beginning to charge admissions to spectators as the sports become more and more popular, leading to their ultimate commercialization and profitability through exposure in the mass media and increased fan-fare (Rader 42, 49, 55). If it were not for the American male’s manifestation of the inherently manly characteristics of hard work and power in their participation in sport, there would likely be no progression of sport as a leisure-time activity into the highly-commercialized industry that it would eventually become, as the commercialization of sport required the concentrated effort of American males to recognize sport’s profitability and act accordingly to capitalize on it. If stress relief and fun were the driving factors behind sport participation, the explanation behind the development of professional, commercialized sport would be a difficult one to make. Stress relief and fun would not lead to the development of a major, profiting industry that the sport industry had developed into by the twentieth century, but the exemplification of manly character traits such as hard work and power that American men put on display in their participation in sport were driving factors behind the profitability of the sporting world. It is because of these manly character traits of which American men of this period constantly pursued that sport has developed into the successful industry that it is today, and has not remained a
  7. 7. Rode 7 leisure activity as it had begun in its origins. Displays of masculinity must have been the primary purpose of sport participation leading up to the Civil War or else the progression and organization of sport throughout the history of America and the development of sport into the product that we see it as today would cease to exist.
  8. 8. Rode 8 Works Cited Adelman, Melvin. “The First Modern Sport in America: Harness Racing in New York City, 1825-1870.” Journal of Sport History Volume 8. Issue 1: 5-32. Print. Goldstein, Warren. Playing for Keeps: A History of Early Baseball. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 2009. Print. Gorn, Elliot J. The Manly Art: Bare-Knuckle Prize Fighting in America. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 2010. Print. Rader, Benjamin G. American Sports: From the Age of Folk Games to the Age of Televised Sports. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2009. Print. Struna, Nancy L. People of Prowess: Sport, Leisure, and Labor in Early Anglo-America. Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 1996. Print.