- Sport and the American Occupation of the Philippines: Bats, Balls, and Bayonets by Gerald R. Gems
Sport and the American Occupation of the Philippines: Bats, Balls, and Bayonets
Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2016. 203pages.
How did sport fulfill American colonial aims during their occupation of the Philippines? Gerald Gems offers an alternative and unexplored perspective on this period of Philippine history. A professor of health and physical education at North Central College of Illinois and a sport historian with numerous published works on sport history and its value to society, Gems’s field of expertise offers a unique insight. He combines primary and secondary sources to document how various colonial officials and personnel crafted sport and recreation policies and implemented these through their programs and projects. He offers this unique view while providing a general sociocultural, economic, and political history of the Philippines, thus providing the reader with the necessary context of American activities in the colony with respect to sport.
Using Social Darwinist ideas and other notions accepted and perpetuated then as legitimate knowledge in mainstream American society, Gems explains how these norms guided the actions of individuals who eventually played leading roles in the colonization of the Philippines. These included concepts like American exceptionalism, racial and cultural superiority, as well as the belief that people could best imbibe values through play. As such, he emphasizes the narratives of those who had a hand in the colonization of [End Page 257] the Philippines (e.g., Theodore Roosevelt, Leonard Wood, Bishop Charles Brent, and Elwood Brown) to relate how sports served as vehicles to shape the hearts and minds of Filipinos under American tutelage. These accounts of those who were at the forefront of the American colonization and pacification of the Philippines serve to remind us of how ideas potentially could lead to consequences on societies when persons who adhere to such thinking gain the power and authority to implement their beliefs.
In this respect, seemingly benign and mundane activities like sport may serve as a form of “soft power.” It becomes an outwardly innocuous tool for colonization and the transference of American values on the colonized people. From chapters 3 to 8, the book transforms into a virtual primer on the history of American occupation in the Philippines, when the US was then only an emerging world power. Although the details provided in these six chapters may be basic, they provide the essential socioeconomic, religious, and political backdrop for the programs, activities, and motivations of various colonial interests in promoting sport. For instance, American soldiers introduced boxing and wrestling to promote masculinity and build up character as well as martial spirit among Filipino males. They also implemented sports competitions that pitted Filipinos of different religious and ethnolinguistic affiliations against each other. Politicians, aided by other interest groups, used regional sporting events and rivalries against other Asian nations to turn other peoples, rather than Americans, as the foil to the Filipinos’ pent-up nationalism. For religious groups, they believed that sports helped curb what they perceived to be the gambling excesses of the local population. Americans also capitalized on the popularity of sport and used it to create a market for their manufactured goods (130), while cultivating among Filipinos the capitalist values of competition, fair play, and teamwork, among others (5, 96, 116, 129, 137). This newfound inclination toward sport among Filipinos, in turn, ensured that their businesses would have a steady supply of strong, healthy, and controllable laborers (108, 137). Moreover, authorities developed a detailed physical education curriculum (133) and sports organizational infrastructure (138) so that young Filipinos could better imbibe American values and culture (128–29), all while stimulating greater contact and understanding (132).
Readers may initially regard Gems’s work as a nod to “big man history,” with its focus on the personal experiences of individuals that influenced their future actions. Yet one of the book’s strengths, aside from providing an [End Page 258] alternative lens to appreciate this particular period in Philippine history, is to highlight the reality that the relationship between a hegemonic colonizer and colonized people is not always a one-way street. Resonating...