( Originally Published Late 1800's )
There is one tendency in our American life which a careful student of history cannot help viewing with alarm; a tendency which, if not checked, will one day complete the moral degradation of society. This tendency is now only in its beginning; but it has assumed vast proportions and is growing rapidly with each passing year. Where the end will be no man knows. It may be in the ignoble grave, where other republics have been buried, borne down by an overwhelming load of vice and infamy. I speak of the sporting tendency, which we find so, prevalent at the present time. A large part of every community, young and old, are pining for entertainment and amusement. All sorts of games and amusements are invented to enable people "to pass away the time" and save them from the dreaded unpleasantness of ennui. Every expedient is resorted to, to keep lazy people from doing anything useful and to render endurable the tedium of weary hours. If this craze for entertainment were confined to the rich alone, it would not be so deplorable; but it has attacked the laboring classes; it has spread through town and hamlet until nine-tenths of our people think their lives miserable unless they are wasting time and money upon some kind of sport. Young artisans labor, not to perfect them-selves in skilled work, but with mind intent upon the latest novelty in sport, they are eager for the hour of "quitting time" so that they can be off to the real, things they live for, the so-called enjoyments of life. Young ladies are no longer supposed to have their mind upon books, their household duties and such useful occupations. No, like their brothers they have other aims in life than to do the plain duties of the household and fit themselves to grace home with the presence of an angel. The young of both sexes are coming more and more to live in an atmosphere of excitement and to indulge in those questionable forms of amusement which are the direct precursors of dissipation and bestiality. Young men are estimated in certain phases of our society, not according to their intellectual attainments and manly character, but ac-cording to the size of the biceps-muscle and the record of the ball-bat and boathouse. And, on the other hand, young women take a prominent place in society in direct proportion to the rudeness of their conduct and their ability to endure the fatigue of the german and twirl for hours under the giddy lights of the skating rink. Oh, shame on the manhood and woman-hood that has no higher ambition than brawn and no better conventionalities than to swear and swagger! Such a tendency of life does not speak well for the perpetuity of American institutions.
Less than twenty years ago the people of these States left their occupations and played croquet for two summers. Every house-yard in the land was staked off with "hoops" and "wickets" and the symphony of balls and mallets was played from morn till night and even by the light of lanterns. Experts in croquet arose in every neighborhood. Matches were arranged and the championship of an idle game was sought as eagerly as the most valuable prize of life.
This foolish craze gave way to another no less foolish and more expensive. Base-ball became a national craze. Paid teams and unpaid teams smashed their noses and broke their fingers to the delight of assembled thousands. Work was forgotten. Money was lavishly wasted on the national sport. Gamblers, thieves and loafers made it a new field of operation for their business, and base-ball assemblies degenerated into a rendezvous for the slums and ruffians of the cities. The great game that was going to do so much for the physical manhood of over-worked clerks and artisans has ended where horse-racing and boat-racing and all kindred sports end. They have all become cesspools of pollution, out of which nothing but vice and crime and waste and wretchedness can come. Like the gladiatorial shows of Rome, like the bull-fights of Spain, like the famous races of England, our base-ball, our boat-race and horse-race have become a great national nuisance, where hard-earnings are squandered and the young learn habits of wasteful living. Little, indeed, can be said in favor of sports where millions of money and weeks of time go in and nothing comes out. This sporting craze, in one form and another, is the cause of three-fifths of the extravagance of our American life. It is, therefore, the indirect cause of forgery, embezzlement and the fear-fu catalogue of financial dishonor and crime.
Baseball gave way to archery, archery to lawn-tennis, and it will give way to something else invented to consume time and energy and the surplus earnings of those who can afford to waste none of them. The question is not whether there is danger in the sensible use of games and sport after a hard day of toil. Every one knows that such recreation is commendable. But the question is whither is this tendency leading, when five-sixths of our young people are wasting time and energy in wild sport, that totally unfits them for work and sows the seeds of vice for a harvest of dissoluteness and dissipation.
For two winters the merry skaters have held high carnival throughout the country. They have spent four evenings a week in the rink, with foul air, wild and giddy sport and the associations of damning iniquity. They have paid millions of dollars for their sport. They have devoted time enough to the new craze to have decently educated three-fifths of them. They have learned to skate.- They have secured broken sleep, loss of health, vile habits of speech, corrupt manners and not a few of them eternal ruin. What have they got out of it ? Nothing but a habit of sport that calls for more and only makes its possessor chafe and worry under the restraint of useful labor. As a nation we are paying a fearful price for our games. More money is squandered on the theatres, races, rinks, and clubs of our land than it takes to feed and clothe us. Then, too, they are purchased at a fearful expense of time, and, worst of all, the major part of these sports totally unfit those who take part in them for the active work of life. The sporting tendency is indeed our national sin.
There came a time in the history of Rome when the Plebeians were driven off the ager publicus and then flocked to Rome and the cities of the provinces to feed from the public bounty and enjoy the sports which ambitious office-seekers lavished. upon them. The sporting habit of those ancient days was the chief cause of the down-fall of Rome. Are we approaching that period in our history in which we are gathering in sports from the world's end, to satisfy a craven populace that our national prosperity have made idle ? Are we gathering in the vices of man-kind to poison the young and plunge our fair Republic into Rome's eternal grave? Will a future historian studying two bright pictures in the visions of the past find that the two greatest republics split to pieces on the same rock of unlimited sport and unspeakable infamy ?