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35 1/Sport in Imperial Exchanges “I speak more truth than God.” These were the words that captain general and governor Juan de Velasco (1660–70) used in the midst of a challenge during a game of pelota in colonial Spanish Puerto Rico.1 The expression appalled the bishop of San Juan, who, under the rules of seventh-century Catholicism, could have censured him as a heretical blasphemer.2 But for Velasco, winning that point was so important that he challenged the meaning and applicability of heresy and, in turn, established himself as the absolute authority, even higher than the island’s bishop. Velasco was not deposed from his position, and the heretic comment did not take away his legitimacy as supreme commander. To the contrary, the game was another venue to showcase Velasco’s power and authority. More than a curiosity of colonial history, this event portrays several aspects of games and sports in Spanish Puerto Rico. The process of establishing a culture of sport in Puerto Rico is extensive and goes back centuries. This culture of sport was affected by colonialism, which in turn affected and shaped sociopolitical dynamics. Colonialism, periphery, isolation, geopolitics, and centralization all play important roles in how Puerto Ricans view themselves and how sports developed in this small Caribbean island. For nearly four hundred years under Spanish rule (1508–1898), games in Puerto Rico were similar to those in other parts of colonial Spanish America. Sport was another stage for colonial authority and hierarchy to be displayed and defined. Once the United States entered the scene, formally in 1898, Puerto Rican sports entered a more institutionalized and democratic stage. 36 / Sport in Imperial Exchanges As mentioned in the introduction, sport has been defined generally by Allen Guttmann in From Ritual to Record as an activity of play that includes an emphasis on secularism, equality, bureaucratization , specialization, rationalization, quantification, and an obsession with records.3 While this definition is accepted in modern sports— and is inherently tied to my analysis—it runs the risk of privileging the North Atlantic’s athletic culture because it was developed under the historical perspectives of Europe and the United States. However , when we look closely to how sports were practiced in other places of the Western world, such as the Iberian Peninsula, we see that people played games that resemble modern sport long before the nineteenth century. Just as the political leaders in Puerto Rico transferred their loyalty and their claims for autonomy from Spain to the United States, so did the political uses of athletics for authority and empire building . Sports and games did not suddenly appear in 1898 with the U.S. Army and Navy troops. They were present in the island well before then and played a particular role in Spanish Puerto Rican colonial life. Games and sports were used for recreation but also to define lines of authority, by different groups to challenge such authority, and by liberals to modernize society. The lack of a popular mass modern sport and recreation system in Spanish Puerto Rico is also relevant: it became another reason to welcome and incorporate U.S. modern sports in the ideals of the Puerto Rican nation. In this chapter I discuss the games and sports present well before the entry of North Atlantic sport into Puerto Rico to demonstrate how these games were utilized to define lines of colonial authority. By observing the role of sport in Spanish Puerto Rico, readers will have a better understanding of the nuances in Puerto Rico’s acceptance or rejection of U.S. and North Atlantic sport. When the United States invaded the island in 1898, its claims of political and sporting democracy were positively received by different groups. The institutions responsible for the early introduction of organized sport were Sport in Imperial Exchanges / 37 the ymca and the new education system. These institutions served to unabashedly Americanize Puerto Ricans and mold them into desirable colonial subjects. Because baseball was one of the first and most popular of the U.S. sports introduced to the island, much has been written about it, and it would be redundant to repeat its long history here.4 The story of sports in Puerto Rico is more than the story of one sport. While there are definite points of comparison and contention between baseball and the development of physical education and Olympism, these are part of a bigger picture, a bigger historical process. Spanish Sport and Games The games that...


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MARC Record
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