Even the much despised soccer is popular amongst American youths. Yet Americans cheer on their favorite individual stars in all of these sports, especially if the starts engage in charity efforts to justify their bloated salaries. The tension remains about what good sports do for both the individual or society, and Americans today are clearly using sports as a means of practical self-improvement like the Greeks as well as a means of collective identification like the English: "in the 1950's or 1960's, few people exercised; baseline fitness-consciousness was just above zero. Today, 20% of the U.S. population works out on a regular basis, while an additional 60%+ can be classified as...'Consciousness III' -- those persuaded of physical fitness, but who by their own admission, don't get enough exercise. As behavior lags enlightened attitudes, 4 out of 5 adult Americans are true believers in exercise and fitness." But the protests remain that Americans are too busy to exercise, too busy working to do something as decadent as work on their bodies for either the individual or the collective good.
One interesting trend is that today America has more female sports participants. "In a bygone era, women who lifted weights invited a spate of gender-specific epithets; but for many of today's men, toned muscles are an ideal of feminine attractiveness. From 1987-2005, the number of women who trained with free weights tripled from 7.4 million to 22.6 million." Interestingly, unlike male sports the female sports that have generated the most interest in the American public (and the most highly-paid female athletes) have tended to come from individual rather than team sports like tennis and gymnastics. The self-improving 'girl power' ethos suggests once again the American moral demand to justify sports as uplifting and beneficial to a cause, rather than pure fun. And great tennis star Billie Jean King is probably more famous for symbolically defeating an out-of-shape male tennis player named Bobby Riggs than winning matches against the best female players of her generation, although the later showed her individual excellence within the standard rules and parameters of her sport, which is really the purpose of any sporting activity. Sport must be a metaphor, individual or collective, it cannot simply 'be' in America -- politics once again wins over sport for sport's sake in the continued American anxiety over how much time and money we lavish on our interest in games, even while we become a nation of spectators, rather than participants.
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Benjamin Rader, American Sports: From the Age of Folk Games to the Age of Televised Sports, Fifth Edition, (New York: Prentice Hall: 2004), p.8.
Rader, p.40; 47.
Sam Dillon, "Schools Cut Back Subjects to Push Reading and Math," the New York Times, 25 Mar 2006. 29 May 2007, http://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/26/education/26child.html?ex=1301029200en=0c91b5bd32dabe2aei=5088partner=rssnytemc=rss
Overweight children benefit from fitness-oriented gym classes," Archives of Pediatric Adolescent Medicine, JAMA and Archives Journals 2005: 159:996-997, 29 May 2007, http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/medicalnews.php?newsid=31562
Sports Research Bombshell from American Sports Data, Inc.: Sports Participation Trends Parallel Evolution of a More Tolerant and Permissive Society," Business Wire, 12 Jan, 2007, 29 May 2007, http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0EIN/is_2007_Jan_12/ai_n17114892