In this week’s discussion, I read about the history and influence that America and Youth Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) had on sports and religion in South America; Brazil, and Puerto Rico. Brazil is a country that is rich in sporting history. Their men’s soccer football and women’s volleyball, among others, have been very successful in global competitions. Sporting activities were introduced to Brazil by different European countries, American missionaries, the YMCA, and Germans. The YMCA was crucial in the process as they came into the country as missionaries to spread Christianity. They believe sports go hand in hand with Christian beliefs. On the other hand, Puerto Rico was a colony of Spain before the arrival of Americans. After the Spanish American war in 1898, the Spanish left Puerto Rico. However, the country was already dominated by the catholic society. Americans viewed this as backward and therefore felt they were the bearers of the right and burden to spread Christianity in the country. The YMCA was significant in the spread of Christianity in Puerto Rico because they went in as an army and navy YMCA but still spread Christianity and encouraged physical activities.

The themes that dominate this week were Christianity, sports, and racism. Christianity had an influence on how America found its way into Brazil and Puerto Rico. The main organization that spread Christianity was YMCA which felt that it had the duty to do so. They were allies to the United States’ invasion of Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the Philippines. They believed Spanish Catholicism that dominated Puerto Rico at the time was backward. They felt the need to introduce Anglo-Saxon Protestantism which they termed as civilized and culturally progressive. Christianity begot sports in both countries. The general feeling was that spiritual health was tied to physical health. Therefore, sports spread through the region replacing cockfighting and samba dances that were the main source of entertainment in the region. In Puerto Rico, we find a strong theme of racism through the early stages of sports. Black people and women were seen as outsiders in sports. The hierarchy favored ‘Spanish men’. Women would engage in sports, but not during regular hours.

This talked about the YMCA’s role in Puerto Rico, Imperial America’s rule over Puerto Rico and also what role Sports played in Puerto Rico’s “Americanization.”

Luther H. Gulik who was a prominent member of the international leadership of YMCA. YMCA stands for Young Men’s Christian Association. Gulik pushed for having the triangle as the YMCA’s symbol. He saw the Triangle as a symbol intertwined with Christianity which would help spread the worldwide missionary movement. And Gulik sought out places like Puerto Rico, Cuba and the Philippines as places that he wanted to convert to his ideals of Christianity. One of the other reasons he used YMCA is that his interpretation was to have physical strength. And after defeating the Spanish they wanted to wipe away colonial Spanish ideals that they saw as barbaric and backwards and Americanize these places. His main focus though was Puerto Rico, and he used sports as a main way to help Americanize the Puerto Ricans and also the Puerto Ricans who had to suffer under a brutal Spanish colonial rule were more than welcome to welcoming the American’s Imperial rule and Puerto Ricans already knew of sport and enjoyed it so that is another reason they welcomed it.

Sports in the south began to grow at an exponential rate at the turn of the 19th century. Southern culture always seemed to have this idea of masculinity and toughness, and a man is not a real man until he proves his worth. Sports became a new outlet for this notion rather than just working on the farm or doing things at home. Football in particular became the sport of choice for the south and they started to grow. An interesting part of this growth was the religious side of the sports. Miller writes that evangelicals in the south came to see the sport of football as barbaric and immoral. They believed the sport had no place in their society and that it was not right for men to be participating in it. The two sides were at odds but eventually football won out and the south became a powerhouse. Miller talks about how the south took a different approach to football compared to the north and that’s why they were able to succeed. There need for satisfaction and to prove their worth drove them harder and led to the south and in particular the southeastern conference to become the powerhouse of college football today. The south was able to make strides faster than any other part of the country and its remarkable to see. The feelings of masculinity have not gone away and it continues to drive the southern men, they choose to play football rather than tennis or baseball because they are not as masculine.

The U.S. was determined to spread its influence across the globe. Whether it is through sports, arts, or culture, the United States has always had this need to expand and spread its culture. The YMCA in particular was an instrument for the U.S. to spread sports to Central and South America. The U.S. had very close relationships with Puerto Rico and Brazil in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and while they went on missions to spread Christianity they brought sports with them as well. These sports were a way the U.S. could share their culture and values with other countries in a more endearing way. Over time these values began to take hold although these countries did not fully change their ways. While they adopted the idea of American sports and aspects of the American economic system, they mixed it with their already existing culture rather than changing it altogether. Country leaders and people are resistant to full on change but you can see little influences across Latin America that were left by the U.S. in their culture.

At the turn of the 19th century, the idea of imperialism had taken the world by storm. Many of the leading countries of the world (like America) felt the need to spread their ways of life to other underdeveloped countries. As America expanded to more countries after the Spanish America War in 1898, it used organizations like the YMCA to help civilize these countries. America felt the need that they had to implement their ideas, beliefs, and systems onto their colonies. Therefore, the YMCA and other organizations were provided with many opportunities to help implement American ideals. YMCA began to expand to countries like Brazil, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines. They came in the name of Christianity and America, through sports. They encouraged young boys and men to begin participating in sports and physical activities. While simultaneously sharing and beginning to instill American values over time. Although America hoped to transform their colonies into mini Americas, they were not entirely successful as many countries retained different aspects of uniqueness. One example is Puerto Rico, even though they enjoyed the American ways of capitalism, they still held onto a sense of diversity. This was in part due to teachers, who implemented the things they wanted from America and left out the things they did not. For example, baseball and basketball began to become more popular, while the notion (from America) that women were too weak to compete in sports also took root.

While America was expanding its reach across the nations, they were also spreading the ideas of sport at home. Patrick Miller points out, how at the turn of the 19th century there were no large sports teams in the south, only the North and West. This slowly began to change as the game of football grew in popularity. Miller argues that the game of football helped focus the determination of the South. It allowed for those in the South to encourage their young boys and men to participate in manly and physically demanding sports. Giving the South a goal to strive after and prove their toughness. Sports really began to grow when the view of sports was accepted as a form of proving masculinity. Although there were attempts to make it a religiously center activity, sports won the day as a way to prove a man’s worth. Over time, southern sports teams began to progress in skill and gain a deeper understanding of the game. Furthermore, by the early 20th century, athletes were being recognized as All American athletes and became household names. This transition over a short period of time shows how deeply sports reconnected the South with their tradition of believing they had to be better and was a way to prove their masculinity. Also as southern universities began to play those in the North and West, they learned that games could be both physical and organized in a calm professional manner. Miller reveals how the South did not come to be a sporting powerhouse by following the pattern of the North or West, they blazed their own trail through keeping what they liked and not using what they did not. Very similar to the colonies the YMCA expanded into, they kept some aspects of America and not others. 

When reading “The Sporting World of the Modern South” by Patrick Miller I was introduced to the ideas of many during the early days of football. Many players and people, similar to today, saw the sport as a way to become a man. This was a way to show how manly they were and how strong they were to others. Many other people, such as evangelicals, saw the sport as barbaric. They saw the sport as disgusting and filthy. It was immoral to them for men to be playing such a sport. It is interesting how this can still be seen today, many athletes who play sports such as football or even rugby, will look down on those who play a sport that is less “manly” such as tennis or volleyball. Why does the sport, or lack of any sport, one chooses to play define their level of masculinity? In “The Early Evolution of Modern Sport in Latin America: A Mainly English Middle-Class Inspiration?” by JA Mangan, the author writes about how sport played a large role in imperialism. He claims it is often overlooked by other factors such as economics when studying the topic. People often forget that sports were used in Latin America as a way to “civilise” the “uncivilised” people who inhabited the area before the white settlers. The impact of these games and sports were extreme on the native people and cultures. Gideon Dishon writes in “Games of Character: Team Sports, Games, and Character Development in Victorian Public Schools, 1850-1900” about how games, teams, and sports were utilized by public schools to enhance skills of the young school children. Games and sports were played to build the character of the children. The schools are also accredited for the way we play sports today, claiming that their use of them made a huge  contribution on how the sports we play today are played.

The early use of sports had huge impacts on the world we live in today. They were used when countries imperialized and settlers took new land. The sports were used to build character and to change the native people of lands in Latin America and elsewhere. The way these sports are seen has always varied, especially from a religious stand point. Sports have contributed to the sculpting of the world we see and live in today more than most think.