Texas Tech University

How the British Invented Modern Sports—and What Their Invention Means for the West and the World

Dr. Mark Dyreson

Professor of Kinesiology and Affiliate Professor of History, Penn State University.

Modern sports serve as one of the fundamental epoxies that bind the heterogeneous contemporary world into a “global village.” Sport provides perhaps the most ubiquitous evidence of the emergence of common global culture as the Olympics and World Cup soccer telecasts create the most widespread “shared experience” for global humanity, attracting audiences as large a 5 billion viewers. Significantly, modern sports are historically a Western and particularly a British invention, originating in and spreading from the English-speaking world to the rest of the globe.

Given their deep historic connections to the West, and especially to Anglo-American cultures, questions emerge about the meaning and power of sports in the modern world. Does the spread of modern sports around the world make the global village more Western? Given the historic connections between the invention of modern sports and the origins of Western liberalism, do sports carry liberal traditions to other societies? Or, given the historical reality that modern sports have flourished in all sorts of modern polities, totalitarian, fascist, and communist as well as liberal, are sports so plastic and adaptable that they do not carry the cultural patterns that their makers insisted they possessed? What impact has the spread of modern sport had on the “global village”? Does it provide, like the evolution of modern cuisines, a non-ideological veneer of globalization without much impact on deeper social structures or does sport contain the possibilities for making more profound impressions?

Mark Dyreson teaches in the history and philosophy of sport program at Pennsylvania State University and he holds a position as professor of kinesiology and affiliate professor of history. He earned a Ph.D. in history in 1989 from the University of Arizona and has published extensively on the history of sport and its role in modern cultures. Among his books are Making the American Team: Sport, Culture and the Olympic Experience (1998), Crafting Patriotism for Global Domination: America at the Olympics (2009); and, with Jaime Schultz, American National Pastimes—A History (2015). He is academic editor for the International Journal of the History of Sport, co-editor of the Sport in Global Society book series published by Routledge Press, a former president of the North American Society for Sport History, and a fellow of the National Academy of Kinesiology.

Dr. Dyreson's lecture was held in the Escondido Theater at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, TX, March 11, 2015.

The Institute for the Study of Western Civilization