Essay Sample on Sports of America in the 19th Century

Published: 2021-06-25
1756 words
7 pages
15 min to read
Harvey Mudd College
Type of paper: 
Term paper
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Prizefighting or rather boxing is not a new concept and applies tentatively in the sporting arena. The prize is the sole motivation behind the competitions with respect to the view that people want to demonstrate to others that they are the best. A good example is in college football where the players go through several stages and matches in order to gain the final prize. College football is among the major sports celebrated by young people in the U.S. it has its own unique culture that is characterized by language, mode of dressing, and the supporters (Kidd, 2013). The sport is mostly played by men and employs a massive use of strength. The strength employed in the sport can be viewed as a way of showing manliness whereby an individual uses strength and speed to defeat the other party. It is important to note that sports such as prize fighting and football were viewed as manly sports during the 19th century (Kidd, 2013). The focus of the paper is to analyze some of the versions of manliness embedded into college football in the late 19th century, and to the degree to which they were they the same as, or different from, the versions of manliness embedded into prize fighting during the nineteenth century.

Manliness can be associated with the concept of despotism in the sense that a group perceives itself to be superior when compared to other groups. Despotism entails selfishness with the view that as al long as one does not have something, then the other party cannot also have it. According to the article, that the Americans combat the effects of individualism by free institutions, Equality places men side by side, unconnected by any common tie; despotism raises barriers to keep them asunder, (Democracy in America, Chapter 5). In other words, despotism divided instead of bringing all people together. Manliness in sports can be viewed as a form of despotism in regards to the associated aggression and competitiveness that lacks in the feminine construct. From the time sports began in the western world, sports such as football have been perceived to be manly as a result of its belligerence and competitive characteristics. Violence and the need for obtaining a prize through competition have been significance aspects of college football from the time hurling began.

One of the ways that manliness was viewed during the nineteenth century was through aggression that was present in most games (Kidd, 2013). British colonists are perceived to engage in games that were present in their native land. During the nineteenth century, North America had already been occupied by the Indians. The tribes in the Eastern Woodland engaged in the Stickball game which is commonly identified as lacrosse among the French. However, for the British, they did not adopt to the games from the Native Americans. It is important to note that most of the games played by Indians were associated with various practices such as shamanism, sacred dancing, pipe-smoking, drumming, and chanting. In other words, most of their games were associated with religious practices (Kidd, 2013).

During the eve of colonization, the English people engaged in several games in regards to recreation purposes and various opinions (Gorn, 2012). It is important to note that at this stage no sport was viewed as typical. The games were also marked with immense brutality from the men. The idea was that whoever brought a ball to the goal, he was viewed as the winner. In regards to the restrictions, the teams were not limited to particular numbers, and hence anyone could take part in the playing field (Gorn, 2012). The whole countryside was viewed as the playing field. Also, for one to play in a team, a parish membership had to be considered. The sports were extremely violent, and possibly, people used them to settle their personal grudges or societal rivalry (Gorn, 2012). Gentlemen took the responsibility of organizing the matches and ensuring that the winners received prizes in addition to feasts to celebrate the victories. The gentlemen belonged to the noble families and men of high status who assisted in securing the allegiance of the ignoble neighbors. The games brought people together in the sense that all men came together regardless of the social hierarchy (Gorn, 2012). The football at that time which was viewed as hurling allowed men to prepare for future conflicts as the game allowed the participants to acquaint themselves with the topography and look forward to the moves made by the opponents in order to strike adequately. It is viewed to have given them the courage to meet their enemies on collision. However, despite the courage and strength that the game provided to the men, the outcomes were always unpleasant because of the broken bones, swollen faces heads covered with blood and fatal injuries. The hurling involved in the game is perceived to have boosted the players sense of manhood. The aggressive sports were viewed as a section of mens culture. The sports distinguished masculinity from femininity in the sense that masculinity was characterized by competitiveness, bravery, and aggression (Gorn, 2012). In synopsis, the conception that manliness entailed aggressive and competitive behavior was present in most games during the nineteenth century.

According to an article in the New York Times, the American youth were quite weak when compared to the British and the Native Americans (New York Times, 1856). From the writers perspective, Americans relied mostly on their intellectual ability instead of their physical strength (New York Times, 1856). Also, if the Americans considered combining both intellectual and physical power, they would achieve greater accomplishments when compared to their current achievements (New York Times, 1856). The author states, The young men of England do not seem to know what to do with their superiority of animal life. Gloves and foils and single sticks compose the furniture of their rooms, ad although they dissipate perhaps as much as we, they know how to work the poison off. One sees them walking along the streets big chested, fresh colored, with that loose movement of the limbs and erect carriage which to all eyes is pleasant to look at, (New York Times, 1856). In other words, when compared to the young men of British descent, the American men possessed physical weakness. The writer questions about the time that the American youth would join football, curling, cricket, boxing and any other activity that made both the mind and body healthy (New York Times, 1856). The writer argues that despite the well-equipped gymnasiums in America, most of the patrons came from Germany and England (New York Times, 1856). From the writers analysis, it can be viewed that manliness during the nineteenth century was marked with physical strengths and that sports such as football contributed to the physical development.

Prize fighting can be viewed to involve violence especially when an individual fights others when trying to establish a point (Walker, 2014). It was quite common England before spreading in other areas and was highly encouraged. It entailed boxing where two opponents would fight until one is defeated. The individual still standing was then given a prize. It was mostly organized by wealthy men who engaged in bets that included huge sums of money (Walker, 2014). According to the article, The American Fistiana, prize fighting became quite popular in the America; similarly to how it was popular in England (Johnson, 1918). The article highlights the fight between Sullivan and Hyer that amounted to $10000 as the prize. It also describes the fight to be warlike since the men fought as if their lives depended on it. Before, the introduction of gloves, men fought only with their bare hands. Similarly to hurling, the men got serious injuries and at times lost their lives as a result. Johnson states, In the year 1840, however, the fighting spirit took a sudden start, and numerous gentlemen who had looked mildly out of their ages till that moment, became as fierce as terriers and also famous without cause (1918). Fighters such as Sullivan gained fame whereby people looked up to him as both a great man and an oracle whose opinions were viewed as unfailing and without any form of scrutiny. The fighting gained a huge audience in the U.S. especially among men with the view that power was associated with masculinity. Similarly to football or hurling, prize fighting also represented the concept of manliness. People who lost the fights were considered weak and intolerable. The winners were viewed as superior and powerful such that whatever they said made sense (Kaplan, 1995).

From the above analysis, it can be perceived that both prize fighting and college football were similar during the nineteenth century in regards to manliness. The participants in the games aimed for the final prize and highly exhibited competition in the sense that no one wanted to be viewed as a weakling. Another similarity is that both sports incorporated plenty of hostility and damage with every man trying to exhibit their strength. The participants nursed serious injuries at the end of every game due to the violence. Both sports were also used to settle old scores whereby some individuals took part to cause harm on others. Both football and prize fighting depicted despotism in the sense that each person involved wanted to illustrate their strength or power.

As stated earlier, the focus of the paper is to analyze some of the versions of manliness embedded into college football in the late 19th century, and to the degree to which they were they the same as, or different from, the versions of manliness embedded into prize fighting during the nineteenth century. It is important to note that both football and prizefighting sports began in England before taking route in America. The Germans and British hugely took part in body building activities when compared to Americans at the beginning of the nineteenth century. However, with time, Americans gained interest in physical exercises and hence competitions such as football and prize fighting gaining popularity in America. The sports exhibited manliness in terms of completion and violence during the nineteenth century.


Johnson, H., (1918). The American Fistiana. New York: Harvard College.

New York Times, (1856).

Democracy in America, (Chapter 5). That the Americans combat the effects of individualism by free institutions

Gorn, E. J. (2012). The manly art: Bare-knuckle prize fighting in America. New York: Cornell University Press.

Kaplan, M., (1995). Society for Historians of the Early American Republic. Journal of the Early Republic, 15(4):591-617

Kidd, B. (2013). Sports and masculinity. Sport in Society, 16(4), 553-564.

Walker, P. L. (2014). Wife Beating, Boxing, and Broken Noses: Skeletal Evidence for the Cultural Patterning of. Troubled times: Violence and warfare in the past, 3, 145.

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