Modern sports appeared during the great societal shifts that accompanied the industrial revolution in Great Britain and the United States. As twentieth century scholars studied sports they noted this emergence, analyzed it, attempted to select the most important activities, and pursued the history of individual sports. This chapter essentially tracks that endeavor.
There is a notable difference between the traditional, or pre-modern sports, and the modern sports of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Compare, for instance, the lacrosse game of the American Indians with the modern game played by collegians today. Hundreds of Indians took to the field to scramble for the ball with a stick in each hand. Today, rules limit the teams to ten-a-side for men and twelve-a-side for women using one stick each. The Indians played in a convenient, natural clearing with goals 250 yards distant-some accounts say miles apart-and now the field is limited to 100 yards. The Indians related the game directly to religion and warfare; today such connections are obscure, if not divorced from the playing. For the Indians it was mainly a male endeavor, but now either sex plays the game. To be sure, there is a distant similarity between traditional and modern lacrosse, but there are major differences in rules, venues, equipment, motives, gender, scheduling, records, and the social strata of the players.
English sociologists Norbert Elias and Eric Dunning along with American historian Allen Guttmann have noted these comparative differences between old and new sports in their writings. Elias, a German-Jew whose mother died at the Nazi death camp of Auschwitz in World War II, was understandably engrossed about the nature of violence. He inquired:
What kind of societies are they, one may ask, where people in great numbers and almost worldwide enjoy, as actors or spectators, physical contests between individual people or teams of people and the tensions,