How did immigration and ethnicity play a role in the practices of Sport from 1870 to 1920?

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Question: How did immigration and ethnicity play a role in the practices of Sport from 1870 to 1920?

Sports and American History


Sport has since time immemorial proved to be a unifying factor. It breaks barriers that exist in society. People from different races, ethnicities, nationalities, and genders can interact and share ideas through involvement in sport. Competitive sport has experienced a lot of transformation over the centuries. Several factors have come together to improve, innovate and develop new sports and playing strategies. Some of the major factors that have shaped modern sport are the influence of immigration and ethnicity. Immigrants from different parts of the world have brought new skills and traditions into the sport and further developed the sports culture. Immigrants from Asia, for instance, were instrumental in the development of cricket; those from Scandinavian countries contributed to skiing and skating while those from the Mediterranean countries had an impact on the development of football. Ethnicity played a crucial role as well. As an example of this, girls from particular ethnic minority groups unlikely to participate in sporting events.

Roles of Immigration

Immigration to the United States was common during the mid to late 19th century and influenced sports in a big way. This influx of people into the country created a middle class that had enough money to spend on recreational activities. This disposable income coupled with time away from work made these people eager to participate in sports. They did this either as participants or just spectators. Those who were not interested in active sporting activities engaged in other recreational activities and leisure events.The Gilded Age became a period where more leisure time was given to employees than any other period in American history. This is attributed to the high number of immigrants who had flocked the American cities looking for jobs. With many immigrants getting employed to work at the various sectors of the American economy, most employees started having reduced working hours, weekends, and holidays. Some occasionally got vacations. The increased free time away from work made life monotonous for the people, and they saw the need to engage in leisure activities. There was also the progressive movement that made the people cautious of their health. These factors pushed people to engage themselves in sporting activities. Amusement parks started to fill. People started using the streets to engaging in street sports and night-time leisure activities.Immigrants from Britain, Asia, the Caribbean, and Scandinavian countries brought in a range of sporting events. Immigrants from Scotland and England brought the track and field events. The German immigrants instituted gymnastics. Those who came from Asian countries largely contributed to the growth of cricket. American football was also largely borrowed from the English Rugby. This coincided with the period when people had started to view sport as a healthy activity. Although it was only the rich who could participate in sports events, the emergence of the athletic tracks, gymnasiums, and fields gave the middle class the avenues to participate. The clubs of the time started instituting sports programs.As some immigrated to seek educational opportunities, there was a rise in collegiate sport. Colleges and universities started showing huge interest in sporting activities. Football was the most dominant sport, but other sporting activities took place as well. Students competed in track and field events, baseball, and English rugby. As college sport became increasingly competitive, colleges and universities started scouting for skilled players and professional coaches. Most of these professional hires were immigrants who originated from a place where the sport was common. That contributed to an improvement in the sport, and bodies and associations were formed to regulate it.Immigration led to the emergence of social entrepreneurs like Henry Chadwick. He was an English immigrant and a prominent historian and sportswriter. He was called the ‘Father of Baseball’ because of his contribution to baseball reporting and statistics. He created box scores, batting average, an earned run average. He was also well familiar with cricket. Albert Pope was another sports entrepreneur who descended from immigrants. He manufactured bicycles and promoted cycling by starting the first cycling club. He also started mass production of bicycles which lowered the costs and made them available to most people. This promoted cycling as a sport. Other social entrepreneurs were Albert Spalding and George Pullman.

Roles of Ethnicity

Ethnicity can be defined as having a common history or sharing cultural traditions. Ethnic groups are often associated with a nation or place of origin. Ethnicity had a profound impact on sports since it contributes to exercise psychology, which influences sport patterns.Sports during the Gilded Age became an ethnic affair. Immigrants from different backgrounds and geographical areas brought with them new sporting activities and groups that soon became part of their identities. Groups from the Czech Republic often associated themselves with the Sokol movement and often participated in gymnastics. The Irish commonly participated in baseball and boxing sporting events. The African Americans were segregated from participating in sports and were banned from clubs and professional sports. The blacks, therefore, formed their YMCAs, football and baseball clubs, and teams.The American Social structure had a big impact on the development of the sport. The emergence of sub-communities meant that ethnic groups like African Americans were segregated from participating in particular sports events. The membership was based on gender, race and wealth, and served as badges of exclusivity for those who joined them in pursuit of sport and leisure. Some of the sub-communities were groups that participated in yachting, rowing and regattas, and racket sports.Sports forced assimilation of disparate groups and ethnic minority groups. This quest to assimilate led to the further development of sports. It also solved the gender challenges that existed at the time. More women started participating in sporting activities, and gender biases were eliminated. Female athletes had access to facilities, and women clubs and teams were formed. Sport became part of the process where immigrants and ethnic groups were assimilated into the American culture and set the ground for the creation of child labor laws, mandatory education laws, and mandatory physical education.ConclusionImmigration and ethnicity played a major role in sports development during the Gilded Age. Immigration led to an influx of people who brought with them new skills and sporting activities. Cricket, gymnastics, field and track, and kayaking were all brought in by immigrants. The sporting culture that the immigrants brought was embedded in the American system and eventually became a culture that everyone participated in. Social entrepreneurs also came by and brought with them new dimensions of offering and reporting on the sport. Sport also acted as a means for assimilating disadvantaged and ethnic minority groups. Despite the restrictions, ethnic groups played a significant role in the development of the sport.


Author Since: January 20, 2021

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