We sport fans who have grown up in America usually take the U.S. sports scene for granted. But what about those in other cultures who know little of our sports? Clearing up the mysteries behind such things as intramural games, Title IX, or the ins-and-outs of professional football is the reason for this outstanding volume from the series “German & American Studies in Sport.” Editor Annette Hofmann writes in the introduction, “The USA is regarded as the leading sports nation, but what do we really know about American sports other than Baseball, American football and cheerleading that come from this country?” The answer is that after reading this volume, German students and others who are interested in American sport should know a good deal.
Until now there has been very little German-language literature about American sport, and the present volume is an attempt to close that gap. In order to accomplish that goal Hofmann has deputized an impressive posse of German and American sports historians and sport sociologists who have contributed fifteen essays on a wide variety of topics including an overview of sport history, child and youth sports, physical education, college [End Page 176] sports, intramural sports, and the intricacies and implications of required inclusion of women. Among the contributors are such excellent scholars as Steven Riess, Ronald Smith, Gertrud Pfister, Gerald Gems, Kimberly Schimmel, Maureen Smith, and Susan Bandy among others. All of these essays are well presented and valuable, though for an American audience, probably not very revelatory.
Although most of the essays in the book are by well-known U.S. academics, American readers will probably find the essays by German contributors more interesting. It is clear that many aspects of American sport fascinate and (let’s face it) baffle the German researchers. Nowhere is the difference between European and American sport more obvious than in the operation of sports organizations. In the essay “Sportverbände in den USA: Verbandsstrukturen und Verbandspolitik” authors Helmut Digel and Marcel Fahrner try to explain the workings of sporting organizations, from governmental (like the President’s Council on Physical Fitness) to various professional and non-governmental agencies (like the National Football League and the Amateur Athletic Union). The authors point out that because tax dollars are spent only sparingly on groups like the U.S. Olympic Committee, officials must look elsewhere for their funding such as commercial enterprises and the media. Sports organizations in Germany are somewhat paternalistic and “success guarantors” while in America, the various official committees must concern themselves first with fundraising and afterward with helping the individual athletes. Despite this, the bottom line is that like the American political system, U.S. sports organizations are Byzantine in their organization and muddled in their particulars, but somehow they work.
Essays on professional sports, the Young Men’s Christian Association and its role in American sports, and the country club as an elite sports venue complete the book. Annette Hofmann’s final essay on ethnic organizations is especially illuminating. As a nation of immigrants, it is only natural that those who came to our shores brought aspects of their culture with them. For German immigrants, the Turnverein or gymnastics organization was one of the most important social and sporting institutions that brought people together. Less well known are the Sokol movement for Czech, Slovak, and Bohemian émigrés and the Polish Falcons. In many ways these groups are symbolic of the American sporting experience as a whole: European traditions arrived on these shores, mixed with other cultures, and then moved off in other directions to form something uniquely American.
One of the things that must strike Germans who read this book is the tremendous variety and richness of sporting experiences that are available in the U.S. From children and teens to university athletes, women’s sport and professional players, there is quite literally something for everyone. We in America have always enjoyed games and athletic activities, and it is interesting to see the workings of this system from...