America Learns to Play: A History of Popular Recreation, 1607-1940

By Foster Rhea Dulles | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER XXI
SPORTS FOR ALL

COINCIDENT WITH THE REVOLUTIONARY DEVELOPMENT OF THE movies, automobile, and radio and the rapid progression of popular fads and fancies, there was a no less significant expansion of sports. From prize-fights drawing the largest spectator crowds since the gladiatorial combats of Imperial Rome to a sudden craze for skiing which packed winter excursion trains throughout the North, they boomed as never before. If the American people actually spent more time motoring, going to the movies, and listening to the radio, their interest in sports often appeared to transcend that in anything else.

In 1905 Viscount Bryce had found one of the most noticeable innovations in the life of the American people since his earlier visits "the passion for looking on at and reading about athletic sports." Baseball games and football matches were exciting "an interest greater than any other public events except the Presidential election."1 Within a few years the expansion of the newspaper sports section intensified this absorption, and as time went on it was still further promoted by moving pictures and radio broadcasts.

But while critics of the American scene declared we were becoming a nation of onlookers, that the sports people watched rather than played were creating a degenerate race getting outdoors only at a stadium or ball park and exercising only in the short walk from the parked sedan to the entrance gate, a less spectacular growth of active sports was actually bringing about a quite opposite development. By the 1920's and 1930's far more people than ever before were themselves taking part in games

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