The other day I was working the closing shift at work and a friend of mine mentioned how baseball was the American sport; of course I took this statement as an invitation for a debate. I told her that I thought football was the American pastime and that people could judge a society by its pastimes.
Americans have a history of violence. We fought for independence, we fought with countless other countries over our two centuries of existence, and when we ran out of other people to fight we fought ourselves in one of the bloodiest civil wars in history. We’ve also had an amazing history of crime, both organized and petty. During prohibition in the 1920’s crime bosses battled with each other over turf and with the FBI over the fact that their selling of alcohol was illegal. Even today we see this violence with respect to the frequent drive-by shootings reported in any number of newspapers in major American cities almost on a daily basis (Washington D.C. is known as the murder capitol of the world for just this reason). And America has also been the home of countless serial killers over the centuries.
The political and social arenas have also been places where Americans have used violence to achieve their goals. Skinheads, Nazis and the KKK have all used terror tactics and violence to promote their beliefs of white supremacy and keep blacks in what they considered inferior positions in society. Labor unions fighting for better working environments and benefits have been violently dealt with by both labor bosses and the U.S. government. Even peaceful demonstrations such as those during the Vietnam War have been violently put down by the army and the National Guard. These examples prove that Americans not only use violence to reach their goals, but that they also condone it as a useful means of doing so.
The history of sports is also a good indicator of the violent nature of Americans. This is also where my friend and I got into it. I said Americans don’t like watching boring sports like golf, bowling, and baseball. “They’ve been replaced by the new American sports like football, hockey, and wrestling (if you can call wrestling a true sport).” I argued that the reason attendance was so low at baseball games was that Americans like the fighting and contact in the other sports, and she had nothing to say except that baseball still has many loyal fans. Bowling has recently been taken off the air because nobody would watch it. The only exception to the dating of older American sports is boxing which has survived because of its violent nature. This trend of changing interests in our national pastimes is a direct indication of our progress or lack of progress of our society.
As our country has become more stable we have looked to the sports arenas for an outlet for satisfying our need of violence. Baseball was big because it was a leisurely retreat from an otherwise violent society. After the world wars, the quelling of the acceptance of racism, and the stabilizing of our labor system Americans needed an outlet for their need of violence, this was found in the new wave of American sports. This new wave of sports is also a sign of both a lack of progress and a probable peaking of our society. Whether we go forward or back from here is not only up to us but also perhaps up to our inner demons that subconsciously keep us longing for the next battle.