Posts Tagged ‘sports’

Opening Day 2015

Baseball is back this week. Hallelujah!

Actually, it was back earlier, in spring training, which has become highly popular in recent years. One fieldwork observation about spring training in the Phoenix area,where 15 MLB teams train in close proximity, 10 of them sharing stadiums: The teams’ enthusiastic fans seem to mingle in good cheer. Why is this amicability worth noting? Because if one looks to Europe (and Latin America), one sees violence between gangs of fans at a scale and intensity shocking to Americans. The U.S. has a much higher rate of violent crime overall than does Europe and yet, in this regard, our stadiums seem like oases of peaceful sportsmanship.



To be sure, violence does break out among fans at American sports events, even baseball. Mix together young men, competition and alcohol and you have a formula for brawls in the stands, dousing opposing players with beer, and busting things. In the Bay Area, we have had a couple of tragic fights break out among handfuls of fans just outside stadiums. Last year in southern California, three U.S. Marines were stabbed in a brawl between Dodgers and Angels fans. Post-championship celebrations too often end up in street violence–as did the celebration of the Giants clinching the 2014 World Series–although usually the damage is just to property. Still, American sports have nothing like the brutal battles between the supporters of European football (soccer) teams–for example, 39 deaths in a 1985 European Cup riot. How come?


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Sunday Pleasures, Private Faith

In 1892, The Chicago Tribune reported that a judge in Racine, Wisconsin had fined several athletes for playing baseball on the previous Sunday. It went on to whet the readers’ appetite by speculating that the “Sunday observance law war is expected to be more exciting than last summer, as outdoor sports and picnics will be strictly prohibited within city limits on the Sabbath day.”


Modestly-sized Racine, divided between strict Lutherans and more liberal Catholics, was far from the only city to discourage public entertainments on the Sabbath. Even big, bad Chicago: In 1895, a judge fined “Cap. Anson” – who had led his team to five N.L. pennants in the 1880s – “and eight of his ‘Colts’” –- later to be the Cubs – “$3 and costs each for disturbing the peace . . . .  They were found guilty of ‘noise, rout, or amusement’ on the Sabbath,” reported the Tribune. The issue of Sunday observance was not always so amusing. In some cities, it came to violence, with vigilantes attacking Catholic immigrants’ Sunday beer-halls.

About 70 years later, on a Sunday in February, 2012, GOP presidential candidate and observant Mormon Mitt Romney visited the running of the Dayton 500 NASCAR race. He described the event as “quintessentially American.” (Because of rain, the race had to be delayed two days.) Indeed, the Daytona Speedway was first opened on a Sunday in 1934.

The story of the two sorts of Sundays may be that America became irreligious between Cap Anson’s time and the Daytona Speedway’s – but the story is actually more complex than that.


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Opening Day 2011

March 31 brings Opening Day with your – well, at least my – World Champion San Francisco Giants facing the team that used to be called ‘Da Bums (before they became Hollywoodized). The come-from-behind-the-pack saga of a team of undervalued position players was capped by a tremendous victory parade last November along Market Street that even stunned the veteran players (see Andy Baggarly’s account). San Francisco fans remain, months later, in a blissed-out stupor.

Giants Parade 2010

The social history angle here – there has to be one – is to wonder about such mass adulation of sports heroes. Millions of people spend good money and spend good time watching a bunch of men play a game. No paycheck, religious duty, threat to life or family, tribal allegiance, or urge for freedom draws them into the stadium to cheer or onto the streets to celebrate. How does that make sense?

Modern mass spectator sports in America began in the late 19th and early 20th century. Historians have tried to understand what brought the masses out to spectate. Many say it’s all about compensation.


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