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The Athletic Crusade

Sport and American Cultural Imperialism

Gerald R. Gems

Publication Year: 2006

The Athletic Crusade is the first book to systematically analyze the role of sports in the expansion of U.S. empire from the 1890s through World War II. Gerald R. Gems details how white, Anglo-Saxon Protestant males set the standard for inclusion within American society, transferred that standard to foreign territories, and subtly used American sports to instill allegedly desirable racial, moral, and commercial virtues in colonial subjects. In the realm of such expansion, sports provided a less harsh, less militaristic means of instilling belief in a dominant system’s values and principles than more overt methods such as war.

The process of change, however, had unexpected consequences as subordinate groups adapted or even rejected American overtures. Sport became a means for nonwhites to challenge whiteness, Social Darwinism, and cultural hegemony by establishing their own physical prowess, claiming a measure of esteem, and creating a greater sense of national identity. Gems shows the direct influence of sports in Hawaii, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic and explores their comparatively minimal influence in countries such as China and Japan.

Amid increasing globalization, The Athletic Crusade offers a welcome perspective on how the United States has attempted to spread its influence in the past and the implications for the future of indigenous and other societies.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press


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pp. vii

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1. Race, Religion, and Manifest Destiny

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pp. 1-16

Americans came late to the imperial game, or so historians have charged. Spain, France, and England had long since partitioned the New World and much of the old by the nineteenth century. At an 1884 conference Europeans carved up the African continent and staked claims to colonies. By 1914 European powers...

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2. China and the Rejection of Christianity

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pp. 17-29

China existed in relative isolation from European nations for millennia, but Mongol invasions in the thirteenth century resulted in temporary alien conquest. European interest in China escalated with Marco Polo’s publication of his extended venture to the Asian land...

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3. Baseball and Bushido in Japan

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pp. 30-44

Race and religion proved to be ongoing, contentious factors in Western relations with Japan. Christian missionaries arrived in search of souls in the sixteenth century but met with a ban against all, and martyrdom for some. Yet they persisted, returning in the 1850s...

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4. Sport and Colonialism in the Philippines

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pp. 45-66

Under Spanish control for nearly three centuries, the Philippines opened the port of Cebu for world trade in 1860. An American firm quickly established an office in the city, signaling the start of American intervention in the islands. By the end of the century...

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5. Hawaii as a Cultural Crossroads of Sport

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pp. 67-81

Hawaii served as an early stop in Anglo globalization efforts and the concurrent cultural imperialism. Captain James Cook’s landing at Kauai in 1778 soon introduced alcohol, tobacco, diseases, and guns to the native culture; Kamehameha conquered the neighboring islands...

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6. Cuba and the Rehabilitative Qualities of Sport

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pp. 82-98

The Taino and Siboney Indians who settled Cuba enjoyed a free and playful existence until enslaved by the Spanish in the sixteenth century. Their pastimes included a ball-and-bat game that is a significant symbol of modern Cuban sporting cult...

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7. Sport and the Restoration of Pride in Puerto Rico

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pp. 99-114

Race, religion, and revolt dominated the history of Puerto Rico. After Christopher Columbus discovered the island in 1493, colonization by the Spanish occurred in earnest in 1506. With the Spanish came Catholicism and disease. The latter decimated the ranks of the native Indians...

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8. Sport and Economic Retaliation in the Dominican Republic

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pp. 115-124

The Dominican Republic had been a Spanish colony for three centuries before gaining its independence in 1844. American Protestants had begun settlements on the northeastern part of the island at Samana Bay twenty years before independence...

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9. The Outposts of Empire

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pp. 125-147

A Dutch explorer noted the Samoan islands in 1722. In 1782 the French lost a dozen sailors, killed by the inhabitants when trying to land there. British missionaries had settled the region by 1830, establishing Christian schools and attempting to end the tribal warfare...

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10. The Globalization of Sport

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pp. 148-164

Sport has figured prominently, if more subtly, in the imperial process. Colonial powers subdued or subverted nationalistic impulses by authoritarian, often harsh and militaristic, means that often met resistance. Sport proved a less overt means of instilling belief...


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pp. 165-200


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pp. 201-224


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pp. 225-233

E-ISBN-13: 9780803205406
E-ISBN-10: 0803205406

Publication Year: 2006