This is part one of a three-part series about America, it’s love of sport and the competitive spirit that makes America the splendid nation that it is. America has always been viewed as a land of magnificent opportunities, where our early ancestors in pursuit of the American Dream and the “Hope” that it inspired dared to explore new horizons and freedom of choice and action. To do this, immigrant Americans have endured enormous injustices, inhumanities, and severe hardships as they were woven into the grain of American life. Our forefathers had incredible courage, faith and confidence when it came to maintaining the right mental attitude in the midst of such negative external forces. Most of these early immigrants had strong ambitions. They dared to dream and reach for higher horizons even though they knew that they were living in the midst of a cutthroat, competitive society. They needed to find ways to outperform and outwit the locals. There was no time to waste on indecision’s like “Do we fight or flee, make excuses and blame, or give it our all?” They knew what they wanted and had an unwavering belief that they would eventually succeed, taking the plunge by moving forward with a burning desire to win or perish despite all outward setbacks and obstacles. The key factor for their survival was to win, and in order to win they needed to compete against others. They sacrificed and toiled unceasingly, making significant contributions to the economic strength of America. The new image culled from the remote wilderness helped mold and maintain the enterprise system that has made America what it is today, the financial center of the World. Whether they worked on farms, in factories, building railroads, bridges, towns and cities, their rewards were greater than any country could ever offer. They competed, and they won.
Since the beginning of civilized life, man has been forced to compete for survival. Competition is also the driving force of progress. Capitalism is based on competition. It’s built to reward winners, the strong, the smart and the driven. In a sense, capitalism is a test of skill or ability; a contest. It is the desire to always be the first and the best. Within these early immigrants existed a tremendous source of creative ideas that needed to be developed to its fullest, and in doing so, they would be encouraged to “go for it…try harder…do more…to win.” It was that competitive energy and strength of character that would get them up in the morning and encourage them to keep trying time and time again. It was that same competitive spirit that created business giants of the era such as the Astors, who were one of the landholding and mercantile families that made substantial fortunes during the early nineteenth century. Then there was Cornelius Vanderbilt and Andrew Carnegie, multimillionaires who reaped mammoth financial rewards from investments in transportation and industry. Let’s not forget J.P. Morgan who came to the forefront of American finance; Rockefeller in oil, the Armours, Swifts and Morris in meat packing, the Havemeyers in sugar, the Dukes in tobacco and many, many more. They were the champions who made it to the finish line the quickest they were sharp and intellectual perhaps the best men of business in the world. The fact that they may have started from comparative obscurity with nothing in their hands, yet they did have confidence, ambition, and a strong desire to gain an advantage over their competitors. It is these qualities that brought them commercial success. Being competitive can bring out the best as well as the worst in us, and for some individuals, it doesn’t matter how they do it or at what cost they succeed, as long as they end up winning. America is and always has been obsessed with winning.
Man’s competitive spirit has enjoyed many centuries and continues to expand to other areas and professions governed by competition. It is an ever-present aspect of life. The introductions of technological innovations have led to vastly improved standards of living for the American people to enjoy an unparalleled freedom of leisure time, especially when it comes to SPORTS. The 1920’s are oftentimes referred to as the “Golden Age of Sports.” Needless to say, sports have provided many Americans with a much-needed escape from the hardships and humdrum routine of their daily lives. With the economic boom of the 1920’s, radio and the automobile were one of the foremost consumer products of that era. With the purchase of a radio, farm families from even the remotest corners of the country were brought into immediate and daily contact with the rest of the nation. This meant a farmer in rural upstate New York could listen to a Yankees game as it played out in the Bronx. Sports were greatly stimulated with the coming of radio. The difference between newspaper and radio coverage was that the newspapers would inform the sports enthusiasts about the game events a day after the event, while the radio provided coverage while it was happening in real-time. Plus, it was more exciting to hear a commentator’s voice in the midst of cheers and boos of the crowd. The radio delivered prize fights and baseball games to those who were not able to observe them in person. Families and friends in rural and urban areas used the broadcasting of sporting events to escape sheer boredom and isolation. They gathered around the radio to listen to commentators talk about the big battle of the century in 1921 between Heavyweight Champion Jack Dempsey and Georges Carpentier of France. Let’s not forget the championship bout of 1927 between Dempsy and Gene Tunney. Most importantly they listened to Babe Ruth who was the greatest sports star of all times, as he swatted sixty home runs in 1927, a record which stood until 1961. Needless to say, even women were celebrated in sports, such as Gertrude Ederle in 1926 who became the first woman to swim the English Channel.
Although the radio had a high priority in just about every household as a form of entertainment from early morning until far into the night, the automobile revolutionized the use of leisure time. Meanwhile, sports began flourishing, as it was thickly covered with the press, movies, the radio and magazines such as Sports Illustrated and others. These mediums played a pivotal role in boosting the profile of sport and its competitive sport heroes. Books were being written about the different sports teams and the individual super heroes. Such was the popularity of these 1920’s sport stars that they will never be forgotten. Sports museums and Halls of Fame’s all around the United States honor these athletic icons from the past and present. Now with lesser working hours and more leisure time on their hands, sports enthusiasts were able to flock in record numbers to wrestling and boxing matches, to baseball and football games. The Notre Dame-Army game, which was held, at the Polo Grounds in Manhattan, New York during 1924, attracted at least 55,000 fans. This Anglo-American tradition of competitive sport, which at one time was an amateur past time, was now becoming professionalized and commercialized on a much higher level. In 1930, Babe Ruth negotiated an $80,000 annual salary with the New York Yankees.
The consequences of the Wall Street Crash of 1929 as well as the Great Depression had a profound, negative impact in the Sports Industry as attendance plummeted. However, as for the amateur and the professional spectator sports, some were able to eventually recover most of their former stature of the 1920’s.
So here we are, 11 years into the 21st century, still obsessed with competitive sports. Sports we have inherited from our forefathers with decades of history, but only two will be the focus of my attention in this ongoing series. In part, two of this three-part series, I’ll explore the history of two of America’s favorite competitive sports, boxing and baseball.
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