A Nation of Onlookers?


THE inhabitants of the North American continent are a strange people, and the United States of all lands is the country of paradoxes. We talk incessantly of law and order, yet we are the most lawless race on earth. Our magazines and our movies teem with stories of love, but our business men are too rushed to do anything about it. We spend more money on education than any nation on the globe, and the total result seems to be order in our traffic lanes and disorder in our minds. We are the greatest sporting nation of the world, yet every fall forty million Americans — Dr. J. H. Nichols, director of athletics at Oberlin, estimates the number at twelve million weekly — pay an average of forty million dollars to watch twenty-two boys kick each other and a leather ball round a field.

The greatest nation of sportsmen on earth! What a familiar ring that slogan has. But wait a minute. Are we really a nation of sportsmen, of practising athletes? Of late I have begun to wonder. My doubts started last fall when I came across an article in the Scientific Monthly by Dr. Charles D. Snyder, professor of experimental physiology at Johns Hopkins University. He had a suspicion that our reputation as the leader of the athletic world might not be wholly supported by facts, a suspicion borne out by an investigation he made of the various scores in the last Olympic Games held in Berlin in the summer of 1936.

His contention was that these scores did not entirely represent the relative merits of the different nations; that their sporting values were badly portrayed by the actual scores obtained — because some countries had a population of over a hundred millions of athletes to draw upon, whereas others had only a few millions from which to pick their team. Taking as a test the track and field events, and omitting such exotic and indigenous sports as cockroach racing, husband calling, and shin kicking, he discovered that on a basis of population Germany and the United States, who stood one and two in Berlin last summer, would not lead the family of athletic nations.

On the contrary, they were well down in the list, Germany at ninth and the United States in fourteenth place. The countries that were up front were small nations — Hungary, Sweden, Finland, Austria, Holland, and Switzerland, in the order named. As Professor Snyder showed, mere bigness does not guarantee athletic superiority. The windy contentions of American sports writers (myself included) that we were the greatest, the most wonderful sporting nation on earth do not stand up so well under investigation. However, smug in the belief that at least we had more participating athletes per capita than other lands, I paid little attention to the learned professor. Then something occurred which made me think about the question.

It was a cold, snowy night last winter, and about eight-thirty I happened to pass by Madison Square Garden in New York. A riot was in progress. At least it seemed to me like a riot. Mounted reserves had been called out to deal with a mob of several hundred frenzied men and women who were trying to break into the arena. But the house was full and the doors closed. What do you suppose brought out these zealots? A Communist rally? Not at all. It was a basketball game between bush-league colleges from the Middle West.

Now when eighteen thousand and some persons pay two dollars and a quarter to watch a game of basketball on a snowy evening in March in New York, this fact seems to me to come under the heading of sporting news. Were we becoming a nation of spectators instead of games players? I investigated, and as one who for years believed in the myth of the Americans as a race of big, outdoor boys, I found it unpleasant to have my ideas upset. Harder still to have to admit myself in the wrong. But some little research obliges me to revise my estimate.

In the following pages I shall present for your annoyed inspection the results of my research, results which will doubtless be as upsetting to you as they were to me. Please remember one thing. The conclusions herein are not guesses. With several exceptions they are not my opinion, nor yet anyone’s opinion. They are facts and figures. I do not rely on them, as Andrew Lang said a ‘drunken man relies on a lamp post, for support rather than illumination,’ but to show and illuminate a situation which has been much discussed, but about which little accurate information has ever been published. I believe the facts are authentic. They come from the best of all possible sources — from Uncle Sam himself.


Ten years ago a fantastic promoter of professional sporting exhibitions for profit named Tex Rickard was sitting in his opulent office in Madison Square Garden recounting stories of Goldfield and the Nelson-Gans fight in the early days of the century. Madison Square Garden — the Garden of to-day, that is — was originally constructed for three things: prize fighting, bicycle racing, and wrestling. In 1929 Rickard died and the slump was on. Tunney by this time had retired, Dempsey was finished with active fighting, and boxing, like the stock market, fell into a slump from which it has never entirely recovered. The Garden appeared to be in a bad way; dividends ceased, as they did in so many other commercial undertakings of the period. So the management brought in a new executive. He was Colonel John Reed Kilpatrick, all-American end at Yale twenty-six years ago. His job was to start things moving again and pull the Garden out of the red.

About this time the pastimes for which the structure was built began to fall off in public interest. To-day bigtime boxing is no more a money-maker for the Garden. In 1927 the Garden earned $900,000, all of it from boxing; this year less than 5 per cent of its net earnings came from fighting. So the Colonel looked round for other games to amuse his clientele. He soon discovered them. Whereas attendance at boxing exhibitions at the Garden fell away from 450,000 in 1927 to 140,000 in 1937, professional hockey, a kind of fisticuffs on skates, played to about 250,000 spectators in 1927 and last winter drew a gate of 432,000, while amateur hockey, a form of sport as amateur as a Spanish war, attracted 191,000 additional customers. The total number of persons watching hockey was therefore almost 400,000 greater in the Garden last winter than ten years previously.

Hockey was only one kind of athletic exhibitionism the canny Colonel made use of to satisfy Garden clients and pay a dividend to the stockholders. (Madison Square Garden Corporation resumed paying a small dividend in 1935, increasing it in 1936 and 1937.) Basketball, hitherto largely a sport for high schools and Middle Western colleges, came to the front. Teams were imported from the South and the open spaces of the West, greatly to the benefit of the gate and the Colonel’s shareholders. Back in 1926 when Rickard was trying to arrange the DempseyTunney fight, a tennis player named Vincent Richards turned professional. Rickard would probably have thought you crazy had you suggested that in ten years tennis would outdraw boxing matches at the Garden. But since then Tilden, Vines, Cochet, Perry, Lott, Barnes, Bell, Stoefen, and others have become professionals, playing for money. The Perry-Vines match in the Garden last winter attracted 17,630, said to be the largest number ever to see a tennis match anywhere in the world.

Notice that while boxing and wrestling, exhibitions mostly for the devotees of pool parlors and corner drug stores, were losing ground, sports for another group took their places and drew crowds. The spectators of 1927 watched boxing, wrestling, and six-day bike races. To-day professional exhibitions attract other classes of society. College graduates watch hockey, lawn tennis, and basketball, which they once played. Football stars of the gridiron can be found at professional football matches to-day, and this new form of sporting exhibitionism played to over 100,000 in a short season of three months last fall. Other spectator sports attracting a new clientele are constantly being discovered. So-called amateur runners built up by press publicity come to the big cities to compete in track meets that are often sellouts before the doors are opened.

This past winter ice skating for the first time officially became a spectacle at Madison Square Garden for the delight of the customers. Under the guise of charity, ladies and gentlemen danced, pirouetted, and otherwise performed on skates to the amusement of capacity throngs on three evenings in succession. Sixty-four thousand clients, with not a seat vacant any evening, saw them, and shortly afterward the Silver Skates gymkhana sponsored by a New York tabloid filled the Garden once more. Miss Maribel Vinson, première American ‘skateuse,’ if that be the term, officially turned professional in the spring, and next winter will be a member of a troupe ruled by Bill O’Brien, the promoter, to titillate the multitudes in the manner of Tilden and the soi-disant amateurs of the college basketball and track teams.

Your reaction to these facts will no doubt at first be the same as mine. How splendid that the sports-loving public can watch the gyrations of Miss Vinson and the gymnastics of Mr. Tilden! To watch inevitably arouses in us all the desire to emulate. These thousands of spectators all over the country who for the first time see Perry or Tilden or Miss Vinson or Miss Henie will immediately rush out to buy skates and rackets for themselves. Suppose the O’Brien troupe is watched by an average of 10,000 persons in ten cities next winter, suppose the Garden in New York is packed three nights in succession. That certainly indicates an increased interest in sport, does it not?

No, it does not. What it indicates apparently is an increased interest in watching, a vastly different thing. People watch Miss Vinson and then, filled with a burning desire to perform, go out and learn to skate themselves — at least so I always supposed. Unfortunately I was wrong. That is, unless the figures given me from Washington government bureaus are incorrect.


If by any chance you are convinced, as I was, that the Americans are by nature and training a race of games players and lovers of active sport, you may be able to explain the following figures taken from the Biennial Census of Manufactures and released on December 22, 1936, by William L. Austin, Bureau of the Census, Department of Commerce, Washington, D. C.

The year 1929 was one of our banner years in sports; or rather— let me be specific — in participating games; in persons playing for the fun of it rather than watching from Section 2, Portal B, Row I, Seats 8 and 9, and would you mind moving over so the lady in the mink coat can squeeze into her place? In that year the total sum spent on athletic goods (not including firearms and ammunition) was $52,288,728. In 1931, two years later, the figure had fallen to $49,257,477, and in 1935 to $34,863,730 — or in five years a drop of approximately $18,000,000, which amounts to 30 per cent of the total sum spent in 1929.

Final figures for the year 1936 are unfortunately not yet ready for publication. Sporting-goods dealers asserted to me that there was a 10 per cent increase in volume for the year just past. Possibly, although such facts as were available on the first of July do not bear them out. But even so this would make the total sum spent on sports in the United States still 14 per cent under the sum spent in 1929. A sporting-goods magazine, early in January 1937, tells the story succinctly — possibly too much so — in a headline stating, ‘Sporting Goods Industry Up 38%.’ Then in smaller letters just underneath is this sentence: ‘Must add another 69% to equal 1929.’

It may well be that these figures are inexact. For instance, everyone knows that 1929 was a boom year, and that prices have dropped in every business since then, so any comparison must necessarily be inaccurate. I make here no claims to accuracy, although again let me remind you that the figures are not mine but Uncle Sam’s. However, let us look at them in another way. To play games you have to possess some equipment and a ball. You cannot play golf, tennis, baseball, football, basketball, or dozens of other outdoor games without a ball. The sales of balls in this country over the past few years have therefore some significance. Now even when one allows for the improvement in quality of tennis and golf balls in recent years, and the fact that they last longer, the figures on the sales of these necessaries of sport are illuminating.

Again let me quote from the Department of Commerce. In 1929, a total of 709,532 dozen baseballs were sold. In 1935 this number had dropped to 550,432 dozen, or a fall of 20 per cent. Even more significant is the sale of basketballs. Basketball is generally admitted to be one of the most popular of playing sports, and Dr. Fog Allen of the University of Kansas claims it has grown faster than any other game in recent years. He is generally regarded as an authority upon basketball, and his statements are impressive. Certainly basketball is popular, especially throughout the Middle West; and in one state, Indiana, there were last year only eighty high schools playing football as against eight hundred competing in the state basketball tournament. I should therefore like to see the good Doctor at work on the government statistics touching on this fast-growing game. In 1929, 1,382,460 basketballs were sold in the United States. The number had fallen to 966,911 in 1931, and two years later to 749,116. This is a decrease in this fast-growing sport of almost 50 per cent.

Yes, it’s inspiring to watch Miss Vinson and Mr. Tilden; it makes us want to get out and crack a backhand down the line or do figure eights on the pond. But does it, actually? Not if the figures from Washington are to be trusted. Sales of tennis goods fell from $4,650,543 in 1929 to $4,266,378 in 1931, and then to $2,854,290 in 1935. Skating, especially fancy skating, has had a great vogue in recent years, but there is n’t any overwhelming evidence of it at the store counters. For 684,964 pairs of ice skates were sold in 1929, and 523,075 in 1935. Add 10 per cent if you like for 1936, as the dealers claim, and you are still 100,000 pairs of skates below 1929, notwithstanding all the publicity and attention skating has had for the last few winters in the daily press.

Perhaps the most striking figure of all comes from the sale of golf balls. With a total of 2,814,400 dozen balls sold in 1929, the number dropped to 2,297,778 in 1931, and 1,492,578 in 1935. Last year the number fell to 1,400,455. In other words, fewer golf balls were sold in 1936 than for any of the previous seven years. When analyzed, government statistics show that golf supplies account for almost one third of the entire volume of athletic goods (not including firearms and ammunition) sold in the United States. Between 1929 and 1935, dollar volume of sales was nearly cut in half, falling from a sum of $21,067,216, which was spent on golf in 1929, to $10,233,809.

Several different and unrelated sports show an increase in recent years. The able Mr. Herb Graffis in his essay, ‘Sit-Down Strike in Sports,’ explains this as due partly to the female influence. The girls, so he says, enjoy being photographed in culottes and ski suits, and no small part of the increase in sales of ski and winter-sports equipment is to be attributed to the ladies. More power to them. Total sales of football equipment have dropped off more than 50 per cent in the past six or seven years. On the other hand, more footballs were sold in 1935 than in 1929, reversing the general trend. Does this mean that interest in football is growing, while interest in other playing sports is declining? Hard to say. At any rate, 530,681 footballs were sold in 1929, as against 1,059,064 in 1931, and 910,592 in 1935. Value, however, fell away over half a million dollars in the same period, so deductions would be dangerous.

Right here I wish to depart from this Sargasso Sea of facts and figures, which has doubtless shaken your convictions as much as it did mine when first it came before my gaze, and hazard a guess — nothing more. In years past I have at various times and in various places attempted to show that interest in playing games and sports for participants was on the increase. This thesis may well have been entirely wrong. But my belief is that, when published, this contention was at least approximately correct. Figures show that during the boom years, and through the late Coolidge and Hoover eras, there was unquestionably a growing interest in playing games and sports of all kinds. Golf courses and tennis clubs flourished. New games like badminton and paddle tennis were introduced. Came the depression — and with the depression a change in our athletic habits.

People could no longer afford eighteen-dollar tennis rackets and twentyfour-dollar caddy bags. (The sales of caddy bags dropped from 430,357 in 1929 to 31,908 in 1935!) They turned to simpler and less expensive sports — to garden games and sports like archery, deck tennis, softball. Or, more likely, they gave up playing for the time being and took the whole family out for a ride in the car. This seems to be borne out by the figures of clubs belonging to the United States Lawn Tennis Association. In the year 1910, there were 160 member clubs; in 1920, 294 member clubs; in 1932 about 900 clubs were members, and the number had shrunk to 748 according to the yearbook of the Association dated 1936, and to 701 on June 1, 1937. Golf shows the same trend. In 1930, there were 1134 clubs affiliated with the United States Golf Association. This year there were 787.

In other words, it’s less effort to watch than to play. Despite an estimated increase in our population of some six millions since 1929, millions who ought surely to add greatly to the number of practising athletes, there has been no such visible addition to those who are lovers and players of games and sports in the open air. Attendance is up in most spectator sports; more people are watching football and baseball games, going to horse races. It appears we are slowly becoming a nation of onlookers. If so, we could wish that those who provide for our comfort would provide for our comfort. Anyone who has had to sit all afternoon on a hard plank watching a horse show in the sun, or on the cold concrete of a stadium some rainy day in late November, will agree that our professional sports promoters don’t know their job. Let’s have things done as they are at Wimbledon, where the seats are covered, spaced off with arms, and you have a thick cushion on which you can sit and slumber peacefully in the open air.


If we are becoming a nation of onlookers there are certainly three factors at work in this country to-day that have a bearing on the question — factors that are increasing the sitdown strike in sports on the part of a supposedly athletic-minded public. These three factors are the radio, the automobile, and the movies, with the pulp magazines — called by Professor Jay B. Nash, of New York University, ‘the mental flophouse of the American public’ — a close fourth.

Leisure, and more leisure, has been the cry of governments, our own especially. But it seems that the citizen of this country does not, with some exceptions, know how to use leisure when he gets it. We have seen that he is not turning to outdoor games and sports as he should, considering the increase in population. Are facilities lacking? No, for whereas the number of private tennis clubs and golf clubs has decreased in recent years, there are more public facilities available than ever before. Latest reports from Washington dated January 1, 1937, state that President Roosevelt approved outlays for athletic fields, parks, stadia, swimming pools, golf courses, tennis courts, and fish and game work to the amount of $340,059,174 of WPA moneys in the six months from July 1, 1936 to January 1, 1937 — this from a total sum allotted of $4,000,000,000. The facilities are there waiting. There are places for outdoor exercise available for every class of the community, and some municipalities are waging intelligent campaigns of sport promotion in an attempt to get the people playing in the open air. But these facilities don’t seem to be used as they should be. Rather than play, the American of 1937 finds it easier to watch someone else play for him, or else, worse still, he will snap on the nearest station and listen to the game described over the air.

In 1926 there were 1,889,614 radio headsets in use in the United States. Last year there were more than that number of radios in the State of Kansas alone, and a total all over the country of 21,455,799, besides an additional 3,000,000 in automobiles. ‘The greatest mental flophouse,’ Dr. Nash thinks, ‘is in front of the radio. There are to-day 28,000,000 radios blaring out 160,000,000 hours a day of advertising, including patent medicines that are forbidden the use of the mails. In their presence no man can read or think.’

Another important demand on our time to-day is the moving picture. No moving picture has ever been a financial success in the United States unless it was pitched at the mental age of twelve years, and painfully few pictures are aimed at a higher mental level. Yet we throng the movie palaces. In 1927, the United States Department of Commerce Bulletin, Motion Picture Statistics, gave the total yearly attendance of 57,000,000. At the height of the depression, in 1932 and 1933, 60,000,000 each year went to the pictures. According to Poor’s Investment Survey, the year 1936 set a new high mark for moving-picture attendance with 4,180,000,000. If you wonder why the American people are n’t playing games outdoors any more, there’s one answer. People may not have time for sport as they once did, but they have time for Gable and Garbo. In 1926, according to the Department of Commerce figures again, there were 19,954,437 automobiles in the United States. Last year 24,913,400 cars, or about five millions more, were on the roads. You cannot play games when you are driving a car.

A recent survey estimated that 10,000,000 pulp magazines were sold each month in the United States alone, with three readers to each copy. Multiply those figures by twelve! How does the American adult spend his leisure time? The chances are eight to ten that he will drive his car along Route 168, watch a ‘moom’ picture, listen to the Itty Bitty Kiddie Hour, or else enjoy a few inches in the bleachers while someone on the field plays for him.

‘Granted freedom,’ says Professor Nash, ‘many men go to sleep physically and mentally. Not having the drive for creative arts, they turn to predigested pastimes prepared in little packages at a dollar a throw. This has literally thrown us into the gladiatorial stage of Rome in which the number of participants becomes fewer and the size of the grandstands larger. Spectatoritis has almost become synonymous with Americanism and the end is not yet. The stages will get smaller and the rows of seats will mount higher. Magnifiers and lights carry the messages to the far corners and one can perform for ten thousand as well as for ten. Twenty-five million persons pay a million dollars in a fall afternoon to pass in at the gates of football stadiums, so that they may watch gladiatorial contests carried on under the holy banner of college education.’

To-day one reads of a course planned at Bucknell which is to help the student to watch football and kindred spectator sports. Then there are the good folk like Dr. John M. Harmon, professor of physical education at Boston University, who proclaims to the alumni of the institution as follows: ‘Athletics provide an excellent diversion while not upon your job. If you turn loose and yell as you did when you were a student, you will get as much health exercise as upon the golf course or the bowling alley.’ If one did not read such stuff in print one would find it hard to believe. The explanation, however, is simple. By doing as the esteemed Doctor wishes you will not only get your health exercise, but you will also swell the coffers of the football war chest. Dr. Harmon’s other title is Director of Athletics.


What they are doing to the participating sports that remain in this country is getting to be funny. Before me is a photograph entitled, ‘Taking the Walk Out of Golf.’ It portrays two damozels (in shorts, of course) seated in a large bicycle chair at the Chamberlain Country Club at Old Point Comfort, Virginia. Their golf bags on their knees, they are being wheeled over the course by a dusky caddy. All they are obliged to do is rise at given moments and smite the ball.

Well, everyone to his own taste in sport. Some years ago I was castigated by the editor of an æsthetic sporting magazine for my lack of knowledge of what constituted real sport. He pointed out, if my memory is right, that real sport had nothing to do with man’s contest against man, but with man’s contest against nature and wild life. Again, everyone to his own taste, and, since I do not wish to arrogate to myself supreme knowledge on the subject, let us have a look at those noble sports in which man competes against wild life and nature. I refer to those where, aided by several dozen of his fellows, he pursues a lonely fox to the death, or chases a stag until it throws itself into the sea and swims away to die. Let us check on the figures of those intensely active sports such as hunting ducks from a blind, or fishing from the bank of a river. According to statistics from the ever-reliable Department of Commerce, hunting and fishing, next to golf, are the most popular of all American outdoor diversions — or sports, if I may borrow that term momentarily.

In the six years between 1929 and 1935, the value of fishing tackle alone dropped from $9,760,370 in 1929 to $6,761,170 in 1931 and then came back to $7,875,393 in 1935. Total sales of fishing rods were 1,495,377 in 1929 and 1,468,403 in 1935, only a slight decrease. Apparently fishing has lost less in recent years than other forms of sport. You cannot get much fun out of fishing by watching, and save in the Sportsman’s Shows they have n’t yet managed to professionalize it. Hunting and shooting equipment (not including firearms and ammunition) fell from $1,129,756 in 1929 to $649,392 in 1931, and $413,656 in 1935.

My friends in the sporting-goods industry explain to me that these figures do not tell the whole story; that there has been an enormous increase in sales of fishing and hunting goods in recent years. They were so certain that I took the trouble to find out how sales of hunting and fishing licenses stood. There was an increase in Wisconsin of about 30 per cent in fishing and 10 per cent in hunting licenses from 1935 to 1936. But in Connecticut there were 18,885 hunting licenses sold in 1935 and 18,361 in 1936, a slight decrease. Fishing licenses totaled 23,198 in 1935, as against 23,851 in 1936, an increase of about 3 per cent. Partial figures for the State of Pennsylvania showed an increase of about 12 per cent, and New York State showed a rise of about 5 per cent from 1935 to 1936.

Likewise skeptical of claims of my friends who assure me the year 1937 will show an increase in the sales of sporting-goods equipment of about 15 per cent, I went again to government sources for information. Sales for the first three months of the year, the only months for which it was possible to obtain figures at the time of writing, totaled $1,371,663, as against $1,325,182 in 1936, or a difference of $46,481, about 3½ per cent.

In February in New York every classification of merchandise showed an increase in sales over the same month in 1936, furniture leading with a gain of 24 per cent, books gaining 22 per cent, shoes 13 per cent, women’s clothes 12 per cent, and luggage 11 per cent. Sporting goods ranked twelfth in the list, with a gain of less than 5 per cent.

In April, radios gained 29 per cent over last year, furniture 28 per cent, jewelry 21 per cent, home furnishings 13 per cent, books 12 per cent, and sporting goods 12 per cent. In other words, if these figures show anything it is that the first-quarter sales, provided they are any indication, prove that there will not be any marked increase over the 1935 or 1936 figures in the sporting-goods industry — or that the American, that great lover of active games, is not starting to hit the ball instead of watching.

The United States has three times the population of the British Isles, yet more tennis balls are sold yearly in England than in the United States. In England alone there are 1260 badminton clubs. The British like to play games. Apparently we do not. How to explain all these facts is beyond me. Where did the myth of our athletic zeal ever get started? Possibly the sports writers, in their habit of extolling the victories of native champions and explaining away their defeats, have something to answer for. Nor is this to say that the American sports writer is more chauvinistic than those in France, England, or Germany. He is less so. But American victories are glorified and magnified to such an extent that we are apt to regard ourselves as the greatest race of sports lovers on earth.

My love of active games dates from a boyhood in which I learned to play tennis on public courts with great difficulty. My brother and I had new balls twice a year and a new racket far less often. No one showed me how to play or took the slightest interest in my game. I watched the older and better players and read books on the sport from the public library. I remember walking the four miles to Longwood to watch Bill Larned play Laurie Doherty in the final round of the Davis Cup in 1903, and paying a quarter to stand all afternoon on a soap box. As a result, the passionate love of the game which I developed was never lost, and very likely I shall drop dead some day following my service to the net.

Now, having some slight interest in the mental and physical education of a young gentleman not entirely unrelated to me, I observe with interest his reaction to the game of tennis. He learned the sport, which everyone will admit is active, in a private school in the West. He was well and truly taught by an excellent teacher and player. To-day he seldom plays, and then with little zest. Although he is a practising athlete, a first-class swimmer and skier, he has little affection for tennis. Why? Mostly, I am sure, because he was obliged to take lessons in the sport precisely as he was obliged to study for his College Boards.

Maybe this American method of forcing games down the throats of our children is one reason for the apparently lessening interest in athletic participation. I don’t know; I’m not sure; I’m merely suggesting. Possibly our desire for financial gain, with the resultant spread of spectator sports and the increase all over the land of Bowls, Stadiums, Arenas, and Gardens, has something to do with it. Perhaps the increased newspaper attention to the champions and their victories in recent years is a factor also. Whatever the reasons, and I don’t pretend to know exactly what they are, the facts are plain. Plain too is the trend which sport is taking in this country. Unless all signs and all official figures are misleading, that trend is not a healthy one, either.

The nations of Europe to-day, after many generations in which sport was never noticed, have suddenly become aware of the importance of the healthy citizen. In Germany to-day all sport is regimented under the Nazi Party, headed by Reichssportkommissar Tschammer und Osten, who controls the policies of athletics and athletes. The aim, as in Russia and Italy, is simply to build cannon fodder. A despicable subservience of the ideals of sport to base ends? Granted, but can we not learn something from their methods which would be of value? Do we have to pretend that it is no one’s business whether the people choose to watch from the bleachers or play on the field? Already the French and English have taken a leaf from the dictator’s book. Under the Blum cabinet France founded a ‘secretariat for sport and the organization of leisure,’headed by a young man named Leo Lagrange. England set aside two million pounds from her defense programme to raise the nation from a C-3 to an A-l standard physically, and has established a great national school for the training of sports teachers and physical-training instructors. In other words, every government but our own appears to be officially aware of the importance of spreading health by the proper use of leisure time. Now such methods in the United States will immediately be condemned as regimentation and one more example of governmental interference in the private lives of the citizens. Maybe so. Yet there is need for official recognition of the problem. Why is the health of the people less important than their commerce, their labor relations, or their defense? We are the cleverest nation on earth in the subtle arts of advertising. Why not a national campaign under government supervision to sell sport, real sport, to the American? The automobile manufacturers would probably fight such an idea; so would the movie producers. Hence the necessity for action by the government for the entire people.

This campaign then would be nationwide. It would enlist all those who are interested in sport — the players of games, the graduates of schools and colleges, the heads of physical education departments, the teachers of physical education, and the athletic societies. Its purpose would be to get people out of their autos on to the courts, the golf links, the bridle paths, the mountain trails, the streams, and into the woods. It could be done, and I believe it would be worth trying, for, even if we have been sitting down these past few years, we are essentially a games-loving race. Certainly you will agree that a nation of onlookers is not a pretty sight.