THE BEGINNING OF SPECTATOR SPORTS
THE SAME PEOPLE WHO CROWDED PIT AND GALLERY AT THE country's early theatres, who made up the vast audience so cleverly exploited by Mr. Barnum, were also responsible for the beginnings of what are termed spectator sports. City crowds early developed that habit of watching others perform in the field of sport which has so often given rise to the charge that Americans are a nation of onlookers. It was a complaint more justified a century ago than it is to-day. "Society would drop a man who should run around the Common in five minutes," declared Oliver Wendell Holmes,1 but thousands flocked to watch some one else run -- to witness a horse-race, a boat-race, or a professional footrace.
The failure of the increasing mass of urban dwellers, of whatever class, to get outdoors themselves did not mean that the American people had lost the Anglo-Saxon love for sports. The rise of cities had broken the traditional pattern of recreational life. Restrictions of time and space, the limitations imposed upon people crowded into small living areas without parks or open spaces, did not permit the familiar games and athletic contests of village life. And organized sports to replace these informal pastimes were a long time in developing, discouraged by those social influences which in every direction were holding up the normal expansion of recreation.
Nevertheless, the commercial amusements whose rise we have traced could not wholly satisfy the needs of men who unconsciously missed the wrestling match, the shooting contest, the foot-race, in which they themselves might have taken part or at