Sports & Culture
How do sports reflect culture?
Sports competitions are part of cultures from around the world. Native nations of what would be the United States engaged in games for thousands of years. Many American Indian men played ball games similar to today’s lacrosse for generations prior to contact with Europeans. The ancient Olympics began in what is today Greece more than 2,500 years ago. The first recorded Olympics were held in 776 B.C.E., but competitions likely preceded that date. The first competition was a foot race but later included wrestling, field events, and even chariot races. By the 1750s, organized cricket matches were played in the British colonies that became the United States. Whether in the past or today, sports are shaped by social and cultural factors that have determined what sports were popular and who played.
Beginnings of Team Sports
Before the American Civil War in 1861, men organized clubs to play baseball and cricket. These clubs had constitutions and bylaws with a set of rules to reinforce ideals of the American Republic, religious mores and “healthful exercise.” The rules for modern baseball and softball date to the 1840s. Baseball had spread west of the Mississippi to California, Iowa and Texas among other states before the Civil War, but the game became increasingly popular after the war. Women and Black men organized clubs before 1870, and the National League was organized as a professional league in 1876. The American League of Professional Baseball Clubs was formed in 1901. The Negro Baseball League and National Football League were founded in 1920, the National Basketball Association in 1946, and the Women’s National Basketball Association in 1996. The first modern International Olympic Games were held in Athens, Greece in 1896 and featured men from 13 nations in 43 events including track-and-field, swimming, gymnastics, cycling, wrestling, weightlifting, fencing, shooting, and tennis. Women participated in the Olympics in 1900 in activities of tennis, sailing, croquet, horseback-riding and golf. The first Winter Olympics were held in France in 1924 with competition in bobsledding, cross-country skiing, curling, figure skating, ice hockey, military patrol, Nordic combined skiing, Ski jumping, and speed skating. Women were only allowed to compete in ice skating as individuals or in pairs with a man. Early noted medalists included Jim Thorpe, a member of the Sac and Fox Nation, who won two Olympic gold medals in 1912. Mildred Ella "Babe" Didrikson Zaharias won two gold medals in track and field at the 1932 Summer Olympics. In 1948, Alice Coachman earned a gold medal in the high jump, the first Black woman to achieve that level of distinction.
Sports for American Youth
Youth and high school age sports became increasingly popular in the late 1800s. A state track meet was held by the late 1890s in Iowa. The invention of basketball by James Naismith in 1891 led to the creation of many community and college teams. Girls and boys from across the country played on high school teams by 1910. Boys’ high school football became popular at the same time. A boy’s basketball tournament was held at Iowa State in Ames in 1919. A girls’ state basketball tournament was hosted by Drake in 1920. Iowa, a state known for its wrestling tradition, held a high school state championship in Ames in 1921.
Sports and Equality
Sports proved a place for equality for Blacks before other sectors of society. High schools and colleges in states where schools were desegregated had Black athletes through the late 1800s. The boxer Jack Johnson dominated the ring and became the first Black heavyweight champion in 1908. The NFL had Black athletes since 1920, but baseball was more popular at the time in the National or American Leagues. Jackie Robinson of the Brooklyn Dodgers made national news in 1947 when he became the first Black in Major League Baseball since the 1890s. Title IX (nine) of the Education Amendments of 1972 opened greater equality for women in community school and collegiate sports. The act prohibited sex discrimination in any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance. Many colleges and universities did not offer the same number of women’s programs as men’s at this time. Title IX created an environment to help guarantee equal opportunity, if not always equal facilities, for women. Sports are a thriving part of American culture. Recent surveys show more than 70 percent of U.S. youth between the ages of 6-12 play a team or individual sports. Millions of Americans follow professional, college, high school, and yourth sports due to television contracts for college and professional teams and leagues. Nearly everyone in the U.S. is touched by sports in their lifetime.
How do sports connect us to our past?
- Ball-Play, 1844 (Image)
- Colosseum, Rome, Italy, c. 1890 (Image)
- Athletics at Fair, 1904 (Document)
- Times haven't changed much, after all., 1919 (Political Cartoon)
- U of Md. & Lehigh, Lacrosse, 1925 (Image)
- Nationals Park, baseball stadium, Washington, D.C., 2008 (Image)
How do sports unify communities of people?
- Roman History of Ammianus Marcellinus: During the Reigns of the Emperors Constantius, Julian, c. 360 (Document)
- Take Me Out to the Ball Game, 1908 (Audio)
- Buxton Wonders, c. 1900 National Sports, 1911 (Document)
- Olympiad is Opened at the Coast, 1932 (Document)
- Concurrent Resolution Honoring the Lifetime Achievement of Jackie Robinson (Document)
- Report on the State of the Union Delivered to a Joint Session of Congress, 2014 (Document)
- 'We're all Iowans': Iowa State football fans help elderly Iowa fan into Jack Trice Stadium, 2017 (Image)
How have sports contributed to the cultural identity of Iowa?
- Champion of Iowa, 1915 (Document)
- Drake Relays, 2008, Lolo Jones (Image)
- Iowa Girls 6-on-6 Basketball Players Tell Their Stories, 2008 (Video)
- Finishing RAGBRAI, 2008 Proclamation, 2012 (Image)
Colosseum, Rome, Italy, c. 1890
Athletics at Fair, 1904
Times haven't changed much, after all., 1919
U of Md. & Lehigh, Lacrosse, 1925
Nationals Park, baseball stadium, Washington, D.C., 2008
The Roman History of Ammianus Marcellinus: During the Reigns of the Emperors Constantius, Julian, c. 360
Take Me Out to the Ball Game, 1908
- Embedded resource
The Buxton Wonders, c. 1900
Olympiad is Opened at the Coast, 1932
Concurrent Resolution Honoring the Lifetime Achievement of Jackie Robinson
'We're all Iowans': Iowa State football fans help elderly Iowa fan into Jack Trice Stadium, 2017
Report on the State of the Union Delivered to a Joint Session of Congress on January 28, 2014
Champion of Iowa, 1915
Drake Relays, 2008, Lolo Jones
Iowa Girls 6-on-6 Basketball Players Tell Their Stories, 2008
- Video resource
Finishing RAGBRAI, 2008
- McComb, David G. Sports in World History. Routledge: New York, 2004.
This book provides an overview of the history of modern sports. It takes a look at multiple different sports and diversifies between western and non-western sports.
- Hall, Stephanie. “Traditional Sports for Unity.” 27 July 2020.
This blog examines how sports have brought diverse groups of people together worldwide.
- McGuiggan, Amy Whorf. “ ‘Take Me Out to the Ball Game’ - Edward Meeker (1908): The Story of the Sensational Baseball Song.“ Library of Congress Guest Post.
This article depicts the significance of the famous tune “Take me Out to the Ball Game.” It helps to paint the picture of the song's impact in American culture.
- Bryant, Nick. “The Shared Language of Sport and Politics.” BBC News. 27 Sept 012.
This magazine article from the BBC discusses the influence sports have had in the realm of politics.
- Dash, Mike. “Blue versus Green: Rocking the Byzantine Empire. “ Smithsonianmag.com. 2 March 2012.
This article from Smithsonian Magazine traces organized sports back to the early days of the Byzantine Empire. It examines the role sports played in early cultures and the influence it had on the development of these empires.
- “Caray Leads ‘Take Me Out to the Ballgame’ “ Major League Baseball. 22 Apr 2014.
9/21/97: Cubs announcer Harry Caray leads the crowd in "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" during the Cubs' final home game of the season
- Obama, Barack. “2014 State of the Union Address.” 28 Jan 2014. C-SPAN.
In his annual State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress, President Obama outlined his priorities for legislative action and for the American people.
Iowa Core Social Studies Standards (6th Grade)
Listed below are the Iowa Core Social Studies content anchor standards that are best reflected in this source set. The content standards applied to this set are middle school-age level and encompass the key disciplines that make up social studies for eighth grade students.
No. Standard Description SS.6.13 Identify what makes up a culture and examine how people acquire their cultural beliefs and value systems. SS.6.14 Explain how groups form in our society, and how groups, as well as the individuals within those groups, can influence each other. SS.6.20 Analyze connections among historical events and developments in various geographic and cultural contexts.