456 Pages
    by Routledge

    456 Pages
    by Routledge

    Since the nineteenth century the USA has served as an international model for business, lifestyle and sporting success. Yet whilst the language of sport seems to be universal, American sports culture remains highly distinctive. Why is this so? How should we understand American sport? What can we learn about America by analyzing its sports culture?

    Understanding American Sports offers discussion and critical analysis of the everyday sporting and leisure activities of ‘ordinary’ Americans as well as the ‘big three’ (football, baseball, basketball), and elite sports heroes. Throughout the book, the development of American sport is linked to political, social, gender and economic issues, as well as the orientations and cultures of the multilayered American society with its manifold regional, ethnic, social, and gendered diversities.

    Topics covered include:

    • American college sports
    • the influence of immigrant populations
    • the unique status of American football
    • the emergence of women’s sport in the USA

    With co-authors from either side of the Atlantic, Understanding American Sports uses both the outsider’s perspective and that of the insider to explain American sports culture. With its extensive use of examples and illustrations, this is an engrossing and informative resource for all students of sports studies and American culture.

    Part 1 Between Big Games and Health Programs – The Complexity of American Sport Culture

    The first part of the book deals with sport in the USA today. The wide diversity and complexity of activities, organizations, discourses and practices reaching from elite sport to fitness programs shall be described and analyzed. This part includes information about current sport discourses among other things about values and benefits, about the sport engagement of Americans (numbers, ages, gender, ethnicity, race, social class, etc.), the structures and organizations of professional sport, amateur sport, college sport, sport for all in communities, YMCA and commercial institutions. A special emphasis will given to media and their influences, audiences and sport consumption, sport markets, and the American heroes.

    The relationship between American sport and American culture more broadly are a special focus of the analysis in Part 1.

    Part 2 From Cock Fighting to Nascar – The Evolution of American Sport

    Part 2 describes the historic developments and the "American Exceptionalism" which have contributed to the current sport culture in the USA. This is not a chronological history of American sport, but chronology and issues of interest are intertwined. It is intended that Part 2 will help students to gain a deeper, historically grounded understanding of contemporary sports and leisure culture as described in the first part.

    Following Bourdieu’s concept of the social field, sport developments took and take place in a specific ‘field’ which has determined the current position of a type of sport in a society. In the social field, the amount of time and the relative chronology are decisive factors. On the one hand, the resources in time and money dedicated to a sport are limited. On the other hand, the time of the establishment of a sport is important because chronological "late comers" have difficulties displacing already popular activities. In the USA as in Europe, the "hegemonic sport culture" was shaped in the period between 1880 and 1930. This might explain why soccer, the world’s most popular sport, has been unable to dislodge football, baseball, and basketball in the USA. The book will focus therefore on the period 1880 to 1930, but will also cover developments before and after.

    Key Themes and Chapters within Parts 1 and 2:

    1. Immigration, American lifestyles and identities, frontier mentalities and sporting activities
    2. Sport and the Higher Education Institutions exemplified by American Football
    3. Professional sport and the struggle for power, exemplified by the development of baseball
    4. Health, gymnastics, physical education and the battle of the systems
    5. Religion, "muscular Christianity" and the rise of YMCA
    6. Sport as cradle of ethnicities – physical cultures of immigrants and how they changed the face of American sport
    7. Media and their impact in shaping American sport and sport consumption
    8. Constructions and functions of sporting heroes in various groups and contexts
    9. From "play day" to title IX – women, sport and the construction, management and enactment of gender
    10. Sport as an arena for the segregation and integration of the races and its meaning for blackness and whiteness
    11. Sport spaces – contested terrains, arenas and markets, places of remembrance


    Gertrud Pfister is Professor of Sport and Social Sciences at the Institute for Exercise and Sport Sciences, Copenhagen University, Denmark. She was president of the International Society for the History of Physical Education and Sport (1984-2000) and is currently President of the International Sport Sociology Association. She serves as a member of the editorial boards for several international academic journals including The International Journal of History of Sport¸ the European Journal of Sport Sciences, and the European Physical Education Review.

    Gerald R. Gems, is Professor of Health and Physical Education, North Central College, Naperville, Illinois, USA. He is past president of the North American Society for Sport History, member of the board of the International Society for the History of Physical Education and Sport, book review editor of the Journal of Sport History and author of numerous books and more than 100 articles.

    "To avoid repetition, the authors offer cross-references and provide references to other resources on some topics. Throughout, boxes give readers snippets of information about significant figures, events, and ideas along with some primary sources."Choice,  L. A. Heaphy, Kent State University