THE UNITED STATES has played a preeminent role in the twentieth century and it has done so in most facets of human endeavor, be it in science and politics, the arts and economics, social organization and culture. What rendered the United States such an original, dynamic, valuable—but also controversial—contributor to all these aspects of the human condition in the twentieth century was the fact that its very own history and existence were part of a larger whole, yet separate from it. In particular, America's intimate, yet also conflicting, relations with its European progenitors has been the source of wonderful creativity and attraction, as well as of much misunderstanding and angst on both sides of the Atlantic. From the days of Alexis de Tocqueville and Harriet Martineau to our jet age, when millions of European tourists flock to all parts of the United States on a yearly basis, America has been a complex and puzzling entity to most Europeans precisely for being so similar to Europe, yet at the same time so different from it.
These commonalities and differences have been the source of many a fruitful comparison of the United States with Europe as a whole (or with a few select countries as its representatives) in virtually every field of the social sciences as well as in many of the humanities, cultural studies perhaps the most prominent among them. We see the essence of our book precisely in this vein, as yet another attempt to look at a particular aspect of American culture in light of its exception vis-1-vis a European—and in our case, even global—commonality. In our study, too, the mixture of similarities and differences renders the comparison fruitful but also complex. On the one hand, the United States is no exception at all in our story. Like all industrial countries, it developed what we have termed “hegemonic sports culture,” that is, a structure wherein team sports played with some kind of a ball or puck attained such societal importance that they became part of popular culture in every industrial nation throughout most of the twentieth century. This hegemonic sports culture began in the latter quarter of the nineteenth century and had solidified by the 1930s. Its adherents and protagonists were almost exclusively male, among whom the working classes and the commercial middle classes played a leading and decisive, if not necessarily exclusive, role. This culture proliferated in a commodified manner and became an intrinsic feature of modern industrial and urban life. As such, it shared a deep affinity with nationalism, one of the most ubiquitous expressions of modern industrial culture. Similarities—better still, commonalities—defined this part of our story.