Few things have characterized mass culture in the 20th century more consistently and thoroughly than sports. Particularly in their team variety, there is not one industrial country in the world that does not possess at least one major team sport which has attained hegemonic dimensions in that country’s culture in the course of the previous century. There can simply be no doubt that team sports as a form of mass culture have been among the most essential ingredients of public life in the 20th century. If anything, their cultural importance has increased in the beginning years of the 21st and shows every indication that this importance will grow in years to come. Why has this been the case? And how did this happen? Moreover, why did the United States deviate from much of the rest of the industrial world not in terms of the presence of such sports, but in their number and kind? Briefly put, why are baseball, football and basketball (as well as ice hockey to a certain extent) the hegemonic team sports that defined American mass culture throughout the 20th century whereas no other industrial country has more than two such hegemonic team sports, most often indeed only one – soccer? Why has this sports map remained so stable throughout a highly volatile and ever-changing century? Will this stability persist into the new millennium or will new forces challenge these hegemonic sports and contest them in their respective cultural space? Will the United States become a major soccer power and will Americans be glued to events in this sport as they have been in those of baseball, football, basketball and hockey for many decades? And, conversely, will soccer-obsessed Europeans come to love basketball and other American sports as much as they have loved soccer? Lastly, will China incorporate both sports cultures and excel at one or the other – or even both – eventually surpassing its American and European teachers?
Taught by Andrei Markovits