The American Passion for Sports: A Primer

The American Passion for Sports: A Primer

Have you championed your Premier League team no matter what?   

Americans are the same. Multiplied by a hundred.

If you haven’t had the fortune of stepping into an American household while they’re watching sports, brace yourself for when you do. You’re in for a treat.

For now, let’s dive into what makes sports an emotion that runs through the veins of so many in the U.S. 

Sports and American Culture

Over half the country (59%) declares itself to be a supporter of sports.

Sports hold significance beyond being a physical activity. They are pillars of values and virtues.

Americans accredit sports with:

  • Developing confidence, dedication, and tenacity
  • Building a moral compass
  • Fostering team spirit and healthy competition
  • Teaching transferable skills and life lessons

Sports cultivate character from a young age. two-year-old kids are enrolled in swimming and gymnastics. six and seven-year-olds start sports like soccer and baseball as part of cocurricular or extracurricular programs.

66% of those who play sports later in life started when they were eight to 10 years of age. Approximately 180,000 undergraduate students qualify for athletic scholarships annually.

Two of the three most-viewed sports in the U.S. were invented there. The third has been nationalized to the extent that it’s more often known by the prefix “American” than not.

Most Popular Sports in the U.S.

1. Football

What (is the game): Played by two teams, the objective is to get an oblong ball from the middle line to the opponent’s end zone (extremity of the field). 

Slamming the ball in the end zone, i.e., a touchdown, earns six points. Drop-kicking the ball through the U-shaped goalpost at the end line secures three points for a field goal. one or two points are awarded for other plays during the game.  

The game is played within four 15-minute quarters. With incomplete passes, timeouts, and fouls, it can last for over three hours.

Who (plays it): Handlers of the ball and tacklers have 11 players on each side. The former is the offense; the latter is the defense. 

Special teams remain on standby for substitution, making up a squad of 53 players in total.

Where (it’s played): A grassy rectangular field, 109.75 m long and 48.8 m wide, is the football battleground. Each end zone spans a little over 9 m, leaving 91 m for play. 

When (it became popular): Football was born in the U.S. as a combination of English rugby and association football. College football fever caught on in the second half of the 19th century.

The National Football League (NFL) was founded in 1920. Consisting of 32 teams, the NFL is the world’s premier level of professional American football.   

How many (watch it): American football boasts the biggest chunk of TV viewership between 2005 and 2021, at 38.8%.

The 17-week NFL season begins every year on the first or second weekend of September. It concludes with the record-breaking Super Bowl, which averages the biggest turnout of any professional league.  

Super Bowl Sunday warrants a watch party for most American families and friend groups. Around 100 million pairs of eyes are glued to a screen on this day. The most-watched game (114 million viewers) was the Super Bowl in 2015.  

2. Basketball

What: Two teams. Two hoops mounted at 10 feet. The aim is getting an 18-22-oz. round rubber ball through the rival’s hoop.

Hands can dribble, pass, and shoot the ball; the upper body is for defending. You can only use your legs to move around the court. Many college and professional games use a shot clock that mandates an attempt to score within 24 or 30 seconds of each possession of the ball.

Every game extends over four segments of 10-12 minutes. A 15-minute break at the end of the second segment indicates halftime.

Who: Five players to a side. Their roles are defined as center, small forward, power forward, point guard, and shooting guard.

Where: Basketball courts can be indoors or outdoors, with hardwood or concrete flooring. Professional courts adhere to the dimensions of 28.7 m by 15.2 m.

It’s common to find backyards and parking lots in suburbs converted into courts. Cities encourage both youngsters and adults to play in public courts. Irvine, California is known for the highest courts-to-residents ratio, housing 17.2 courts per 10,000 inhabitants.

When: Basketball was conceptualized by Dr. James Naismith in 1891 in Massachusetts. Two teams of nine, two peach baskets, and a soccer ball went down in history as symbols of the first basketball match.    

The formation of the National Basketball Association (NBA) in 1946 streamlined professional basketball. Following World War II, cable TV ensured the sport’s popularity in the U.S. 

How many: The game has captivated 15.3%, or nearly 31 million Americans over the past 16 years.

October to April marks the regular NBA season. 30 teams compete in the world’s leading pro basketball league. An average of 1.34 million spectators tuned in for the 2020/21 season. 

NBA playoffs commence soon after between the top eight teams. It culminates in the NBA Finals in June, with the last two teams standing competing for the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy.

3. Baseball

What: Baseball is a classic bat-and-ball contest. Armed with a 24-34-inch wooden bat, a hitter has to whack a 5 oz. ball and race across four bases to score runs. As they cover 27.4 m between each base, an opposing team strives to tag them out by capturing the ball.

The nine-inning game is not dictated by the clock. The batting and defending team switch places after three outs, marking the halfway point of the inning.

Who: One pitcher, one batter, and eight fielders, including a catcher, steer the game. Up to 16 others can be part of the team as substitutes.

Where: The wedge-like baseball park comprises a batter’s box, a pitcher’s mound, a base at every corner, and base paths for sprinting. The field’s shape gives it the nickname “diamond.”

The team native to the location of the park is the home team. The opponents are the visiting team, who always have dibs on taking the first swing. 

When: Baseball originated in New York City in 1845. Though the creator of the sport is debated, Alexander Joy Cartwright is attributed with drafting modern-day baseball rules.

Over the years, the U.S. national pastime became as much a sentiment as a sport.

It recreationally stimulated three million soldiers throughout the Civil War. The calendar year during industrialization was denoted by baseball season; training was spring, the play was summer, and the World Series indicated fall.

Americans yearned for a sport to call their own; baseball became it.  

Fun facts:

  • In 1943, baseball was the first of its kind to boast a women’s league
  • The second most-sung song in North America is the baseball anthem ‘Take Me Out To The Ball Game’  
  • Baseball debuted in the Summer Olympics of 1904, but was officially named an Olympic sport in 1992

How: The official American national sport is a close third-favorite in terms of viewership, captivating 14.8% of viewers.

Major League Baseball (MLB), the oldest North American professional sports league, takes place from April to October. There are 30 teams that compete across 162 matches each. A four-day All-Star Game interludes the season in July. 

Besides MLB, the beauty of baseball stems from its accessibility in daily life year-round. Family dinners? White noise? A reason to recline at the end of a long day? Baseball on the television it is.

Honorable mentions to soccer and ice hockey as the fourth and fifth-most famous sports in American circles.

Yes, the UK claims the most love for soccer (aka football there and most other countries). Still, 8.2% of American audiences ardently follow Major League Soccer and international football championships every year. The portion of American viewership for ice hockey is 3.8%, which amounts to a sizeable 27.6 million fans.

All in all, sports are more than a hobby for Americans. They live and breathe them.

If you’re half as enthusiastic about any sport, you’ll fit right in.

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