Writing a sport and physical activity history like this for the profession, and also for the “trade market” (i.e., the general public), was not my original intention. However, things changed when the truly significant work, a magnum opus, by Robert G. Osterhoudt arrived at my door in 2006. His memorable accomplishment is titled Sport as a form of human fulfillment: An organic philosophy of sport history (Victoria, BC, Canada: Trafford, ISBN 1-4120-4659-9)
What Osterhoudt accomplished, based on his specific definition, is the presentation of “a synthetic philosophy of world history (from an Hegelian, an organic perspective) having principally to do with sport”. In accomplishing this, he has produced a world history per se that also includes the history of sport! He explained further that his effort “is grounded in the broad vision of philosophy; it is oriented to the basic form and contents of history; and it is pointed mainly at the fundamental character and development of sport” (p. iii). This statement warrants further delineation.
Understanding what Osterhoudt means by use of the phrase “from an organic perspective” is crucial to the understanding of his important work (and also to what I will shortly explain below!). Explained more precisely by Dr. Osterhoudt:
It is an organic philosophy of world sport history which comments on the essential factors (the characteristic and decisive factors, the dominant tendencies) in the origin, development, nature, and purpose of human culture and its sporting attributes It aims at a systematic and comprehensive account of the place of sport in human life… (p. iii).
It was my distinct pleasure subsequently to be invited to write a book review of this effort for the academic journal Sport, Ethics, and Philosophy. I accepted this challenge because I wanted to draw further attention to Osterhoudt’s conclusion that sport as a social force was not typically bringing about the type of human fulfillment worldwide that it could (or should!).
As I thought about this important issue further, it occurred to me that this subject could also be brought to the attention of the literate world in another interesting way. What I mean by this assertion is that the persistent (recurring) problems of this important life activity (i.e., sport and related physical activity) should also be discussed and understood individually as both the social forces and professional problems they engender. In this way people might fully comprehend the scope of each “problem” throughout human history even though there would not be the same amount of detail as is included in Osterhoudt’s volumes mentioned above
More specifically, what do I mean by this statement? The answer to this question can be explained in one way at least. In just about every sport and/or physical activity education history book available, the reader finds a unilateral historical narrative of the topic under consideration in which the author takes the reader through a chronological treatment of the subject with relatively little effort at interpretation. However, in this present book I strove to place the various subject in socio-cultural perspective instead of only attempting to summarize the world history of sport and physical activity education (with final emphasis on North America, I somewhat ruefully confess).
I argue that I am using a more "analytic" approach to the understanding of the field's history. The usual chronological approach to writing history typically makes good (and perhaps “easier”) reading, of course. However, I believe the approach used here is ultimately more insightful and interpretive for someone wishing to understand the subject and its impact on society more deeply.
HUMANKIND’S PERSISTENT PROBLEMS
Since the evolution of our species on land began, human physical activity in sport, exercise, and physical recreation has become an increasingly important and vital aspect of the life of the “humans” now in “essential control” of the planet. My chosen task here is to show that sport and related physical activity assumed greater or lesser importance starting with primitive societies and continuing in later societies on down to the present
day. As a social force impacting society generally, and also as a
vital concern for those desiring to employ it professionally in a
variety of ways within society, such activity was used to help
people of all ages in a variety of ways as they lived out their lives.
However, as is the case with so many facets of life on Earth, such involvement can be used beneficially or misused to human detriment. It is my thesis here that we are using it, and that we are also abusing it. In the case of competitive sport, I believe we are abusing it (i.e., perhaps doing more harm than good with it). In the
case of related physical activity (i.e., exercise) in the developed
world, I believe humans are too often “abusing it by not using it
sufficiently”! With sport we are using it, but not to its best advantage, so to speak. In the case of exercise, we are using it insufficiently--and therefore not to its best advantage either. How this has happened since earliest times is the task I have chosen for myself to explain in these pages.
The “Adventure of Civilization”
The adventure of civilization began to make some headway because of now-identifiable forms of early striving which embodied elements of great creativity (e.g., the invention of the wheel, the harnessing of fire). The subsequent development in technology, very slowly but steadily, offered humans some surplus of material goods over and above that needed for daily living. For example, the early harnessing of nature created the irrigation systems of Sumeria and Egypt, and these accomplishments led to
the establishment of the first cities. Here material surpluses were collected, managed, and sometimes squandered; nevertheless, necessary early accounting methods were created that were subsequently expanded in a way that introduced writing to the
human scene. As we now know, the development of this form of
communication in time helped humans expand their self-consciousness and to evolve gradually and steadily in all aspects of culture. For better or worse, however, the end result of this
social and material progress has created a mixed agenda characterized by good and evil down to the present.
On this subject Muller concluded that "the adventure of civilization is necessarily inclusive" (1952, p. 53). By that he meant that evil will probably always be with humankind to some degree, but it is civilization that sets the standards and then
works to eradicate at least the worst forms of such evil. Racial prejudice, for example, must be overcome. For better or worse, there are now more than six billion people on earth, and that number appears to be growing faster than the national debt!
These earth creatures are black-, yellow-, brown-, red-, and white-
skinned, but fundamentally we now know from genetic research that there is an "overwhelming oneness" in all humankind that we dare not forget (Huxley, 1967).
As humans we, who tend to think we are "the greatest," may be excused from wondering occasionally why the"Creator" took such a laborious route with many odd variations of flora and fauna to get to this point of "present greatness." For hundreds of thousands of years, the forebears of present-day humans chipped flints to their tools. However, as they used their brains and their hands, both an enormous biological advantage, it is now evident that in their primitive self-consciousness they were not living only for the moment like their contemporaries, the apes.
As various world evils are overcome or at least held in check, scientific and accompanying technological development will be called upon increasingly to meet the demands of the exploding
population. Gainful work and a reasonable amount of leisure will
be required for further development. Unfortunately, the necessary
leisure required for the many aspects of a broad, societal culture
to develop fully, as well as for an individual to grow and develop
similarly within it, has come slowly. The average person in the world is far from acquiring full realization of such benefits. Why "the good life" for all has been seemingly so slow in arriving is not an easy question to answer. Of course, we might argue that times
do change slowly, and that the possibility of increased leisure has
really come quite rapidly once humans began to achieve some control of their environment.
Of course, there have been so many wars throughout history, and there has been very little if any let-up in this regard down to the present. Sadly, nothing is so devastating to a country's economy. Also, in retrospect, in the Middle Ages of the Western world the power of the Church had to be weakened to permit the separation of church and state. This development, coupled with the rising humanism of the Renaissance in the latter stages of that era, was basic to the rise of a middle class. Finally, the beginnings of the natural sciences had to be consolidated into real gains before advancing technology could lead the West into the Industrial Revolution (Toffler's "Second Wave").
Admittedly, permitting a conscious choice between alternatives goes so far as permitting the presence of "population pockets" where there is a demand to give creationism co-equal status with the teaching of a Darwinian long-range approach to human evolution in the schools. As humans we, who tend to think we are "the greatest," may be excused from wondering occasionally why the "Creator" took such a long and laborious route with so many odd variations of flora and fauna to get to this point of "present greatness." The power that these advantages provided humans was steadily combined with technological advancement, but somehow only offered minimal levels of freedom. As mentioned above, the early development of language as a means of communication was vitally important.
This distanced subhumans even more from the apes as cultural evolution became much faster than biological evolution. In a sense, culture brought with it "good news" and "bad news." The bad news was that humans are now to a large degree trapped in a world that they themselves created. Fixed habits and beliefs are strong inhibitors of change, growth, and what might be called progress.
The good news is that, very slowly, change did occur; growth did take place; and to most people such change and growth represented true progress. For example, prehistoric humans did interbreed, and in this way broadened their genetic base. In the final analysis this lends credence to the present-day argument introduced above that humans today--brown or yellow, black, and white--are indeed one race. This fact helps us to appreciate the development of worldwide cultural evolution. Unfortunately, however, progress has never been a straight-line affair.
In the final analysis, this must be the answer for those of us who idealistically thought that the world would be in quite good shape by the year 2000! It may also provide some solace to those of us who wonder why education finds it so difficult to get sufficient funding; why professors in so many countries must often assume a "Rodney Dangerfield complex"; and why physical education/kinesiology--despite consistently mounting evidence of the worthwhileness of developmental physical activity--so often finds itself in dire straits within the domain of education and in the eyes of the public.
World society is obviously in a precarious state. It is therefore important to view present social conditions globally. Throughout this volume I will be emphasizing that competitive sport has developed to a point where it has worldwide impact. It
should accordingly be so organized and administered that it makes a contribution to what Glasser (1972) identified as “Civilized Identify Society”–a state in which the concerns of humans will again focus on such concepts as ‘self-identity,’ ‘self-expression,’ and ‘cooperation.’
Postulating that humankind has gone through three stages of society already (i.e., primitive survival society, primitive identity society, and civilized survival society in which certain societies created conflict by taking essential resources from neighbors, Glasser theorized that the world should strive to move as rapidly
as possible into a role-dominated society so that life as it is
presently known can cantina on Earth.
Evolving Historical Images of Humans’ Basic Nature
Any effort to delineate the present status of Western man and woman and the role of physical activity education and sport in people's lives must include also some consideration of the
postulations that have been offered concerning the basic nature of
a human. In the mid-1950s, Van Cleve Morris presented a fivefold,
chronological series of overlapping philosophical definitions
including analyses as (1) a rational animal, (2) a spiritual being, (3)
a receptacle of knowledge, (4) a mind that can be trained by usage
and that functions within a body, and (5) a problem-solving
organism (1956, pp. 22-22, 30-31).
Within such a sequential pattern,
the task of the physical activity educator/coach might be to help
this problem-solving organism to move efficiently and with purpose in exercise, sport, and expressive movement. Of course, such experience would necessarily occur within the context of the individual's socialization in evolving world society.
A bit later, Berelson and Steiner (1964) traced six images of
man and woman throughout recorded history, but more from the
standpoint of behavioral science than Morris' philosophically
oriented definitions. These images were:
(1) The philosophical image (the equivalent of Morris' "rational animal"). In Classical Greece,
ancient man and woman distinguished virtue through reason.
(2) The Christian image (Morris' "spiritual being") which contained the concept of "original sin" and the possibility of redemption through the transfiguring love of God for those
who controlled their sinful impulses.
(3) The third image appearing in sequential order on the world scene during the Renaissance was the political image (a behavioral orientation in contrast to Morris'
"receptacle of knowledge" a philosophical categorization), through which humans, through power and will, managed to take greater control of the social environment. In the process, sufficient energy was liberated to
bring about numerous political changes, the end result being the creation of embryonic national ideals that co-existed with earlier religious ideals.
(4) The economic image of the human
(contrasted this with Morris' "mind that can be trained by usage") emerged during the 18th and 19th centuries, one that provided an underlying rationale for economic development in keeping with the possession of property and
material goods along with improved monetarstandards.
(5) The psychoanalytic image emerged in the early 20th century. Berelson and Steiner postulated the stage that was not included in Morris' classification. It introduced another form of love–that of self. Instinctual impulses
were being delineated more carefully than ever before. The result was that people were led to believe that childhood experiences and other
non-conscious controls often ruled people's
actions because of the frequently incomplete
gratification of basic human drives related to libido and sex.
(6) Finally, because of the rapid development of the behavioral sciences, they postulated the behavioral-science image of men and women (roughly the equivalent of Morris' "problem-
solving organism," but with an added social dimension). This view of the human characterized him or her as a creature continuously adapting reality to his or her own ends. In this way the individual is seeking to make reality more pleasant and congenial and-
to the greatest possible extent--his own or her own reality (Berelson & Steiner, 1964, pp. 662667).
Two Historical Questions Arise:
Underlying my entire analysis I am searching for the answers to two historical questions: First, did humans in earlier times, equipped with their coalescing genes and evolving memes,
enjoy to any significant degree what discerning people today might
define as "quality living?"
(Note: Memes are sets of "cultural instructions" passed on from one generation to the next.
Second, did earlier humans have an opportunity for freely chosen,
beneficial physical activity in sport, exercise, play, and dance of
sufficient quality and quantity to contribute to the quality of life
(as viewed possible by selected sport philosophers today)?