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Sport And Manliness In Antebellum America

1813 words - 8 pages

I do not accept the thesis that American men living in cities before the Civil War engaged in sport primarily to define themselves, publicly, as manly. I would accept this thesis if it had stated that men living in cities before the Civil War engaged in sports to define themselves, publicly, and manly. The word that made me disagree with the original thesis is the word “primarily”. I am not stating that men did not engage in sport to define themselves, publicly, as manly, but I do not think that it is the primary reason. I would have also accepted this thesis if it had stated that men living in cities before the Civil War engaged in prize fighting primarily to define themselves, publicly, as manly. Prizefighting is a sport but it does not provide the standard for all sports. I will use excerpts from the various sources we have read in class in order to defend my position.
What is the purpose of sport? The answer to this question has many different answers for the many different types of people. For some people sport is a source means of entertainment, for others it is source of exercise and recreation. It can be another opportunity for someone to gamble or it can be a way to make new friends and enjoy other peoples company. In some sports, like prize fighting and wrestling, men can exhibit their manliness or superiority through competition but there were and still are many more sports than simply prize fighting and wrestling. Since the beginning of the Americas, the primary reason men participated in sports, publicly, was for leisure, entertainment, and to enjoy the company and comradery of other men. We saw on the very first page of the Rader textbook a story about men “shouting, laughing, and running about in Plymouth’s single street openly at play…Some were pitching the bar and some [were playing] at stool-ball” (Rader 1). These games came about from church gatherings and festivals, not the ideal location for a man to show off his manliness. These games also included blood sports like cockfights or baiting of animals. Other sports like horseracing and harness racing were not very manly because it was the horse that was doing the work. Even as pedestrianism gained more population, the runners were not glorified as being manly instead they were something else to gamble on and drink while watching with friends and associates.
As more and more colonists came to America and more leisure time was available, taverns and saloons sprang up for men to congregate at and socialize. With a lot more leisure time on their hands, men would participate in these games and wagers outside of the church festivals and began moving them to taverns and saloons. “Especially for men, taverns became important social centers in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. Many villages and even crossroads hamlets had at least one, larger towns such as Philadelphia, Boston, and New York had many.” (Struna 80). There may have been a big match in a card game or...

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