Sports offer chance to show patriotism

When the Fourth of July approaches, I tend to reflect on things that make our nation unique.

One of them is sports. We are as passionate about sports as anyone. So often, our leisure choices are often determined by our passion for sports.

We have a lot of options nearby: the Curve and Spikes locally and all kinds of activities in Pittsburgh. Our family has enjoyed summer visits to Steelers training camp and trips to Pirates games.

As July unfolds, youth options might seem limited, and college sports are on hold, too. But youth baseball or soccer tournaments and lots of other activities can be found without looking too hard.

Most of our sports have roots in European games, though as we have adapted those ideas, we have given our sports a distinctive American flavor. Baseball, as an example, might have European roots. However, over 100 years ago, sports entrepreneurs worked hard to make sure that baseball was marketed as a sport that was uniquely American, even if fiction was needed to do so.

In 1905, Albert Spalding assembled a committee that was determined to prove that baseball was an American sport with uniquely American origins. The myth that Abner Doubleday invented baseball in Cooperstown, N.Y. was manufactured as evidence, but it was entirely fictional.

No credible sports historian believes this myth today, but many people think it is true, nonetheless.

Baseball’s Hall of Fame is located in Cooperstown because of this fiction. In addition, Spalding established an empire that sold billions of dollars worth of sporting goods. The patriotic fervor that Spalding tapped into played an important part in making him a rich man.

The commercial nature of sports has been criticized by many, yet there are some positive aspects to this. American-based companies have served as leaders in creation and design of sports equipment worldwide. Our media coverage of sports sets world standards, too.

Whether at a Curve game or at the local Little League, we expect to see a well-stocked concession stand. The funds raised at these venues often play a key role in making small-scale youth sports viable.

British historian James Walvin once argued that “even when Americans copied a European form of leisure, they invariably made it bigger, more spectacular, and more lucrative.”

That aspect of sports is probably uniquely American.

But sport is more than just commercialism. We participate in it for civic reasons, too.

I coach a local baseball team, and one of the most compelling moments involves playing the national anthem before each game. Each youngster stands at attention, with caps off in a moment of dignified respect before each game.

At a time when so few things seem to be respected, I am glad to see sports playing a positive role in teaching our youngsters positive civic lessons.

Best wishes for a great 4th of July as you make plans for next weekend.

Bob Trumpbour is an associate professor of communications at Penn State Altoona and an occasional contributor to Voice of the Fan.