Steven Stark: How Americans Link War and Sports

Roundup: Talking About History

[Steven Stark is a former cultural commentator for CNN, National Public Radio, and the Voice of America.]

The big story as golf's Ryder Cup begins isn't the selection of Tiger Woods for the American team or the captainship of Colin Montgomerie for the Europeans. It's the choice of Maj. Dan Rooney—an F-16 pilot who started Patriot Golf Day to raise money for families of military casualties—to address the squad to psych them up for the encounter....

Sports and war have been closely linked in the minds of Americans for generations, which many Europeans find unusual. The first colleges to make sports a major part of student life, in addition to the Ivies, were the military academies. They did so for some of the same reasons as the elite schools—athletics instilled character, etc.—but also because Army and Navy endorsed the old General Wellington idea that battles were won and lost on the playing fields of youth. The better the sports program, they reasoned, the better the soldier, in a reverse of all those recent team talks. (In fact, "Anchors Aweigh," the official song of the Navy, began as a football song in 1906.)

The link between sports and war was also cemented by the rise of sports journalism, which often tended to confuse the two. Stephen Crane once said that he had no trouble writing the battle scenes for The Red Badge of Courage because even though he had never seen war, he had covered sports....

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