Tuesday, June 25, 2024

The best books to better understand and enjoy sport history

Gerald Gems is professor emeritus at North Central College and past president of the North American Society for Sport History.

His new book is Mental Health, Gender, and the Rise of Sport. It argues that in the latter nineteenth century
Sports such as baseball, boxing, cycling, and football offered psychological relief from the stresses of a rapidly changing economic and social order. Cycling, in particular, provided women with the means to challenge the prescribed gender order of female domesticity, male hegemony, and the dictates of physically restrictive fashion. In the process, sport became a key component in the rise of feminism and a prescription for the epidemics that followed over the course of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
At Shepherd Gems tagged five top books to better understand and enjoy sport history, including:
The Manly Art: Bare-Knuckle Prize Fighting in America by Elliott J. Gorn

My next pick is a masterful account of astute analysis written in vibrant prose that recounts the working class version of pugilism during the Antebellum period and the Gilded Age of the nineteenth century. In the frontier communities, males issued public challenges to other individuals or, in general, appealed to any challengers to test one's masculinity.

Lacking rules, such contests allowed for brutal tactics, including eye gouging and even castration, unless or until an opponent admitted defeat. Rather than the middle and upper-class virtues of piety, sobriety, and social mobility, such altercations provided a compensatory value system that rewarded physical prowess.

With the gradual introduction of the Marquis of Queensberry rules after the Civil War, boxing gradually assumed a somewhat more genteel appearance and limited acceptance as a professional sport, producing working-class, racial, and ethnic heroes. By the end of the nineteenth century, it gained the stature of a commercialized business in which national champions vied with international opponents in regulated weight classes on a world stage.
Read about another book on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue