Sports: An Illustrated History

Sports: An Illustrated History

Sports: An Illustrated History

Sports: An Illustrated History

Synopsis

Sports are such an integral part of human culture that it is hard to imagine a newspaper without a sports section or a television news program without a sports commentator. Sports have become a multinational megabusiness. Professional athletes are paid enormous sums of money and fans proudly wear the jerseys of their heroes. Cities risk bankruptcy to construct stadiums and nations subsidize athletes to carry their colors in international competition. Major sporting events draw record numbers of TV viewers and electrify sports enthusiasts from every walk of life, income bracket, and ethnic identity. Athletic competition may be as old as humankind. Throughout history, sports have exerted a forceful influence on almost every facet of life, from politics and war, through culture and the arts, and on to issues that literally concern life and death. The ancient Greeks, by universal accord, ceased all wartime activities for the duration of the Olympic games, while historians believe that players of the ancient Mexican game "ollama" may have been executed at the end of each competition. Sports: An Illustrated History is an engrossing and lively account of the evolution of sports through various civilizations around the world. Historian David McComb uses sports history as a window into world history and society. This lavishly illustrated volume is not limited to the sports we know well and often play in our backyards, on school teams, or playgrounds. McComb describes the ball games of Mesoamerica, Sumo wrestling in Japan, martial arts in China, wrestling in ancient Egypt, the Olympic Games of classical Greece, and the gladiator fights in ancient Rome. He brings to life medieval tournaments and peasant ballgames, tracing the roots of modern sports. The histories of cricket, soccer, rugby, baseball, football, basketball, hockey, golf, tennis, bicycle racing, skiing, and other contemporary sports are covered in depth. The author introduces us to the greatest sports personalities over the centuries: legendary Greek wrestler Milo of Croton, decathlete and baseball player Jim Thorpe, mile-runner Roger Bannister, soccer magician Pele, boxing champ Muhammad Ali, tennis great Billie Jean King, and many others. Woven into the narration are stories about the role of women in athletic competition, the participation of African Americans and other minorities in sports, violence in sports, media coverage, and the sharpening distinction between professional and amateur sports. Following the thread of McComb's fascinating narrative, we visit the great stadiums of the world, become familiar with the strongest and fastest athletes, visit with championship teams, and learn how and why the international sports organizations and competitions were put together. The book concludes with a discussion of the growth of international competition and the modern Olympics.

Excerpt

Sports history is an emotional subject. Fans argue endlessly about great plays, the athletes, rules, and team qualities. With the same set of facts, sports enthusiasts can come to different conclusions. Seemingly, there is no final word on a subject, and everyone has an opinion. Anyone who reads about great sports events should understand how easy it is to get into an argument. This book tries to steer a course toward the mainstream of historical opinion—but, given the nature of the subject, there is always room for disagreement. That, of course, is part of the fun in the subject of sports.

There are only a few books about the global development of sports, but many about special topics. This volume draws on the work of other authors and could not have been written without their information. The bibliography indicates the great efforts of such scholars. It is impossible, of course, to construct a narrative world history that touches on every sport. Fortunately, the recent Encyclopedia of World Sport, edited by David Levinson and Karen Christensen, provides descriptions of 300 sports around the world. Their articles are a good place to start for a reader looking for information about a particular activity. Also, it is impossible to investigate all of the rules of the various sports. For such detail, a reader can refer to Graeme Wright's Rand McNally Illustrated Dictionary of Sports, and the Diagram Group's Rules of the Game.

In organizing this volume, I have followed the lead of world historians, who often arrange their topics around civilizations and long time periods. Thus I follow sports development in Mesoamerica, Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and ancient Greece and Rome. From there, the book generally focuses on the evolution of sports in Western civilization, including the United States. Woven into the fabric of the narrative are comments about the origins of various sports, the athletes, rules, the role of women and minorities, technology, geographic influences, economics, and the importance of politics. For a true sports fan, there can never be enough information about the sporting games that humans like to play. However, the information contained in this book offers a great starting place for anyone who is interested in the global development of sports.

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