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Sports Maturing With the Growth of Cities, Essay Example

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Essay

Growth of sports between 1890 and 1920’s in the USA: Case Study of Sports Origins in Chicago

Recreation has dramatically changed between the 1890 and 1940 when Americans embraced new leisure opportunities. Appearance of Nickelodeons was replaced by movies. Later it was followed by the boom in theaters that were selling 40 million tickets in just a week. Film development was also on a raise. In 1920’s appearance of the radio has put everyone astonished because favorite musical compositions could be heard anywhere around the country. Movies and film in 1940’s were the most favorite pastimes of Americans. However, in 1890 same people were keener on touring the countryside on their bicycles. As time elapsed in 1920 people changed bicycles for automobiles that allowed the number of cars to grow rapidly and bring enormous revenues.

During this time frame more and more Americans enjoyed sports as the participants or spectators. Attendance of the major League Baseball, for example, has increased from 3.6 million to over 9 million during 1900-1920. It is estimated that the number of fans of softballs has grown even more. Simultaneously, registered bowlers grew from 7 to 219 thousand during 1910-1930. It was indeed a time of sports blooming where even such leisure pastimes as dance halls flourished as well.

At the beginning of 1880’s public has significantly increased their memberships in civil and fraternal clubs. Large percentage of people belonged to clubs where they spent about an hour per day doing various activities. Fraternal orders such as Odd Fellows or Masons declined during the 1920’s. But nevertheless such clubs as Rotary or Kiwanis kept on growing. People enjoyed dancing, card games, club meetings as well as various other activities of the clubs. During this period of time people used their autos and phones in order to properly organized their leisure time.

But why there was such an increased interest in leisure and sports? Probably one of the major factors was the urbanization of America during the 19th century, concurrently, combined with the huge population growth. “” During 1860-1900 the US population grew from 31 to 76 million inhabitants. Urban population growth was from roughly 6 to 20 million people. By 1900 almost 15% of the US citizens were concentrated in the 19 cities. Thirteen of these cities had major league teams starting from 1909 when American League gained major league status.  It was obvious the society was now more keen on paying attention and watching the baseball players and movie stars instead of politicians and generals. This change showed that “the vast cultural changes brought by the communications revolution of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, and by the rise of immigration and urbanization between 1890 and the 1920s.” (OAH Magazine of History)

Beginning from after the Civil War times, US experienced a tremendous boom in sports. By 1890 baseball was one of the most favorite and popular sports in the country. College football that originated at the same time also kept on growing its fans. Basketball, which was only invented in 1891, started to spread rapidly because it was one of YMCA kinds of sports. It meant that since Ys played it all over the world, it became popular as well.

Such sport as hockey was also present in society but until 1920’s it was not on a raise.  Thanks to John L. Sullivan, a national hero, boxing became a significant sport by 1890 particularly among the Americans of the Irish origin and the immigrants. There also existed several kinds of sports that were popular among wealthy citizens. Such sports were golf and tennis which were basically played in privately owned clubs where not everyone had an access. Thus, these kinds of sports did not gain significant audience because they were considered as snobbish sports.

Industrialization and urbanization have created a society where commercialized kinds of sports had a great chance to flourish rapidly. Growth of mass newspaper circulation as well as the news transmission through telegraph allowed the goal to be achieved quickly and effectively. It was a great plus that, for instance, New York baseball fan could continue getting the news (via radio or newspapers) of his favorite team while they were on the road or playing in another city.

Baseball players became nationwide known figures mainly due to the press influence during that period of time. However, not everyone could attend baseball games. Working people had a chance to see games only now and then since the price was much higher than what they could afford on a regular basis. Nevertheless, commerce and business that were flourishing in bigger cities developed a big urban middle class of people who had enough income and leisure opportunities. It is known that biggest portion of the baseball attendees was made of this class of people. Games had a tendency to start at 4 pm which was one hour after the regular working day finished and was very convenient for middle class representatives.

Earliest baseball parks were nothing special except for fences and wooden grandstands. The seats for audience were in limited quantities. Therefore, many times audience had to stand in the open area confined behind a special rope barrier. First more or less modern stadium was created in Philadelphia’s Shibe park in 1909. It was made of steel and concrete and had double decks. The stadium had a capacity to host around 20,000 spectators. The majority owner of the team, Ben Shine, had the park be named for him.

In order to closely understand all the specifics and peculiarities of the development of sports in USA during the late 19th century, I would like to analyze the development of baseball in a particular city of Chicago. On the case study of Chicago it is interesting to analyze what lead to the rise of sports and leisure in the U.S. because sports lies in the very heart of the development of Chicago.

There is a legend that says that when the city was a front line boomtown, authority representatives would make dogfights because they knew that such events attract dangerous characters. Once the dog battle started, police arrested all the thieves of the areas. This is said to have been a way of how city of Chicago has been cleansed. Nobody knows if the story is not just a myth but in any case it contains some important information about the development of sports.

Early city of Chicago was known for primitive kinds of sports. Until 1850 men were outnumbering the women which lead to drinking and gambling to become a common norm of leisure as well as horse racing and billiards. However, before and after the Civil War, once the city started to rapidly grow new leisure recreations started to originate. Baseball, cricket and boxing that were popular in New York city, appeared in Chicago. Final decades of the 19th century and first years of 20th were the times of new sporting culture that was in mainstream of all American life.

Fighting for prizes was a common practice in Chicago as well as a solid example of the older ways. Boxing continued to be an outlaw sport in America during the 19th century until the appearance of box gloves and made many box lovers cross states in order to enjoy spontaneous game in Indiana. The games were usually organized by the middle and low class people. Such sports like billiards, boxing or dog fighting were considered disruptive by business people, middle class and clergy. These sports tempted men off their jobs and onto drinking, swearing and gambling.

Important is that the real sport’s rise not only in Chicago but in all the U.S. occurred when the bloodshed sports were displaced by the athletic games. The new sports were being justified by the new ideology that brought athleticism with the certain level of morality. They introduced notions of self-sacrifice and team work as well as self-discipline and leadership.

Baseball in Chicago was the first main team sport that was a part of new ideology. It originated in New York in the middle of 19th century and rapidly spread along the coast. Baseball attracted numerous middle class people and was considered to be teaching fortitude. The game popularity in the Chicago exploded during 1860’s. By 1868 the city already had almost 50 amateur clubs. With time Board of Trade fielded teams and allowed rich men like Potter Palmer to sponsor the clubs. In 1870 one Chicago merchant founded the White Stockings which was the first professional team in the city, later renamed to Cubs.

With immigrants pouring from Europe and migrants from surrounding areas, Chicago doubled in population almost every decade up to 1890. Leisure and sports consumed and attracted more and more people’s energy and time. The newcomers to the city were often viewed by existing elite as the people who needed some sort of discipline. From their side working class worked hard under the new regime in order to be able to fill in their free leisure time with various pleasures and sports activities. The word “sport” back then was indeed a measure of change. In 1850 sporting man was a person who spent time in bars and enjoyed gambling. Later in 1990 the meaning has dramatically changed and started to be associated with the healthy athletic individual or team competitions. This meaning we use until today.

New sporting ideology did not bring unity between the classes, ethnic groups and races in Chicago. Wealthy class kept on playing among their equals and competing on expensive courts or yachts. Rich Catholics, African Americans and Jews were at that time excluded from the sporting elite.  However, the boundaries between the classes in the world of sports were never impervious.  The nature of sports and the wish to win often meant that even wealthy elite organization had “ringers”, namely athletes who were good in play rather than rich. Like American social structure, sport was flexible in its foundation. For instance, men who worked in the sports merchandise often became wealthy from their sales. Middle class communities concurrently formed their special version of middle class elite organizations. Immigrants also re-created their home games. But baseball being a national leisure pastime brought every culture together.

More and more new sports started appearing in Chicago. Among them were basketball and football. With time basketball become one of the most popular sports in Chicago among colleges and high schools. The playgrounds for this game appeared throughout the city in a blink of an eye. Along the way football was more a game of the elite class. Early versions of football known as soccer were played in England and in some American colonies. The free pastures were used as fields and balls were made out of animal bladders. Since 1883 Chicago owned its personal League of Association of Football. However, after the Civil war football acquired a new American version of the game. This was the version of football that Americans are familiar today. Close to 1880’s this game started attracting numerous viewers and fans. Moreover, the game was very often highlighted in newspapers.

Chicago was following the national trend in organization of the high school football team in county leagues. At that time the President of Chicago, William Rainey Harper, understood the game value and hired a coach that can lead the teams to the national competition. Chicago became America’s most dominant football power. College games continued to attract great amounts of fans and spectators as well as press.

In the Progressive era the sporting spirit that took over America was way different from the previous one. The new direction was clearly established. There appeared new sports and uniforms rules as well as good record keeping practices. Sports became a commercialized activity of great interest and money. The new ideology of physical exercising and activity was also dominant. Both of the aspects were widely highlighted by Chicago journalists. The city newspapers were among first ones to create entire pages and sections devoted to sports. In the beginning of the 20th century sports acquired new powerful patrons from various businesses who were funding and founding the leagues.

Despite all positive influences and issues, ethnicity and lass divisions were still present in sports. Wealthy people still owned best clubs and immigrants had to work hard on creating their own athletic organizations. However, raising influence of sports around the country created valuable bonds between the diverse Americans. For instance, to be a fan of White Sox or Cubs meant to be a true Chicagoan. Fandom was a unique bond that united all citizens of the city. Sports as activity was a part of the process of so-called Americanization. People had a unique way to fit in and find their sense of belonging. Children of immigrants were already positioned as Italian and American or as Jewish and American citizen.

One of the outstanding things about sports in that time frame was its amount. Chicago was full of various sports activities. Baseball teams were sponsored by big companies such as Illinois Steel or Sears in order to maintain worker loyalty. Other teams were promoted by individual representatives. Athletics was also on a raise. It promoted along males the new idea of masculinity.

Even women in early 20th century played sports. There were available various athletic girls’ programs. They played tennis and basketball, engaged in swimming and volleyball. Working class women were also engaged in doing sports. For instance, by mid 1920 there appeared 8 women baseball teams and 26 bowling teams. Prior to 1870 women were more engaged in sports as a recreational rather than a competitive activity. Women were keen on horseback riding, swimming or showboating just for fun.

But no matter the old Victorian concept that sports harms women, thousands of Chicago females still took the opportunity to engage in sports activities in the park or even in the industrial league. “Competitive events for college women increased in the early 1900s.” (The Sport Journal) During this time frame as more and more females became involved in sports, they even started creating their own female athletic clubs. Sport was the hottest topic of discussion among all the classes of citizens.

Sports influenced even racial speculations. In 1908 when African American Jack Johnson became a heavyweight champion, public started looking for a great white who can defend the hero. He stayed champion until 1915 when the victory was again in hands of a white man. In 1920 despite the unity brought by sports activities, race divisions deepened. In 1919 during Chicago race riot a young child was killed because he crossed an invisible line that divided white and black swimmers. Athletics had its own version of discrimination. White Stockings coach once refused to let his team out to play with another team whose coach was an African America.

The most successful outcome happened with the appearance of so-called Negro National League. It served its purpose until the day when African American was accepted in the Brooklyn Dodgers. The League produced great athletes and allowed African American teams to grow into important business among communities. Concurrently, black baseball developed its own unique style that was based more on hard line base-running.

Another significant development of 1920 was the growth of the National Football League. George Halas, who today is considered to be the father of the professional football, was the son of Bohemian immigrant. In schools boy was engaged in American games and made his way to become a player of the University of Illinois. With time young man was offered a job to work with other industrial league teams and work on their morale. Halas promptly became the leader of the new league and he started his own team in Chicago. The new team outgrew it descendents and took on National Football League name. Chicago Bears of Halas became a flagship team. Sports allows us to understand that “hard work and commitment to each other can bring” unbelievable results. (BBC)

By 1920 sports took its forms that we recognize it today. The leagues, agencies, games, stadium and media coverage that originated back then is same as we see it today in our daily lives. World War II and the Great Depression probably hold back the development of sport but, nevertheless, after it was over the athletic culture exploded again. Since 1920 sports started to acquire much higher revenues, salaries, audience as well as TV coverage, etc. Football and basketball are main rivals of baseball that still remains as dominant game. But the games in general acquired their unique structure early in the beginning of the 20th century and keep entertaining its audience every day.

Sports as an activity has become wide known and much more international in its scope.  Europeans consider basketball their favorite game. Asia and Latin star players are recruited into our baseball teams. American kids at the same time admire great soccer players from all over the world. In Chicago’s history Al Capone was the first most recognized person internationally and he was replaced by the boxer Muhammad Ali who later was substituted by Michael Jordan. This line of change vividly shows, how throughout the time, development was taking its place in the city and the country in general.

Our country is a unique and exceptional nation in the world. Compared to many other countries, we do not have religious or ethnic affiliation that recognizes one as being a true American.  It is a shared civil identity that combines us all as citizens of the U.S. Throughout all our history, sports has been playing a vital role in helping to establish this particular identify. Babe Ruth, Tiger Woods or Michael Jordan are among the most recognized and famous media sports personalities in America and around the world. Sports have an influential television broadcasting sector that keeps gathering millions of viewers in front of their screens with each new game out. Richard Sandomir of The New York Times comments Super Bowl to become the most viewed show in the U.S. history: “For a program to attract more than 100 million viewers today is nearly miraculous.”

Exploring and understanding the history of sports in the U.S. allows to see all the sporting experiences that constituted an integral component to the lives of Americans in past and nowadays. Analyzing what many years ago people thought of sports and how they engaged in it even before having television or big sports celebrities, is unique. Our country will always produce amazing sports performers because we possess a strong feeling of passion towards sports both as fans and as true participants in our contemporary society.

Works Cited

Bell, Richard. C. “A History of Women in Sport Prior to Title IX.” The Sport Journal. 2007 http://www.thesportjournal.org/article/history-women-sport-prior-title-ix

Chowdhury, Saj. “Spain 0-2 United States.” BBC. 25 June 2009 http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport2/hi/football/internationals/8114585.stm

Henderson, Amy. “Media and the Rise of Celebrity Culture.” Reprint from OAH

Magazine of History 6. Spring 1992. Organization of American Historians. http://www.oah.org/pubs/magazine/communication/henderson.html

Sandomir, Richard. “Super Bowl Dethrones ‘MASH’ as Most-Watched Show in the U.S. History”. The New York Times. 8 February 2010 http://www.nytimes.com/ 2010/02/09/sports/football/09sandomir.html

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