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Winters 1 Ashley Winters Dr.

Pupchek Sport and National Identity 26 April 2011 Intersection of Sport and National Identity: The Sandlot The Sandlot is a traditional American movie about how sport impacts a person, a community, a nation, and a global society. The movie is about a young boy named Scotty Smalls, who moves into a new neighborhood outside of Los Angeles. The year is 1962, and baseball is very popular. One day, Smalls follows a group of boys his age to a neighborhood baseball field, often referred to as the sandlot. Here the boys begin to play baseball, with one old ball and bat. Smalls watches from afar, but is afraid to join in because of his lack of experience and athletic ability. As the movie progresses, Smalls does join the group and learn the rules of baseball and the rules of life at the same time. The boys go on many adventures, from the pool to battles against ferocious neighboring dogs to growing up together on the baseball field. They learn many lessons that can only be taught through way of sport and team dynamics, and their futures rely on what they learned. The Sandlot can be broken down into many different aspects, parts, and pieces that define national identity through sport. Rite of passage is a term that is often used to describe or represent a time in which a cultures social hierarchies, values, and beliefs are shown. Usually this concept involves a coming of age time of life, such as when a boy becomes known as a man. In certain cultures, rites of passage can be ceremonial and happen at once, and in other cultures it may days or weeks to obtain a rite of passage. In The Sandlot, Smalls is first scared to join the boys playing

Winters 2 baseball for fear of being ridiculed. When he finally does decide to join in, he fails to properly catch and throw in a simple fly ball. The other boys all laugh at him and urge him to leave out of embarrassment. One boy, however, names Benny, asks Smalls to stay and saves him from the jeers of the other boys. Benny proceeds throughout the movie to teach Smalls about the game, so that he can earn the respect of the other players. This idea of earning respect is very essential to American national identity. Not only in sport but also in everyday life, respect is the foundation of all pecking orders, management systems, and corporate offices. Respect is highly valued in American culture, and is fought for between people, between communities, between states, and even between America and other countries. The need for respect goes back into when America was made its own country, because the colonies were not receiving the respect they thought they deserved from the British. Respect made America the country it is today, and therefore it has a large impact on its national identity. Another thing that ties into the rite of passage idea is the American version of a son and father relationship. In other cultures and in other countries, their identity may not be based off of such an ideal family picture. Even the American Dream consists of a household family, with a husband, wife, and children. Baseball in 1962 was a great way for father and son to interact. In the movie, Smalls step father is too busy to teach him how to properly play baseball. They dont get along that well, and the relationship between them is less than friendly. As the movie goes on, Smalls asks his step dad for help, and the two begin to bond over the common theme of baseball. Both enjoy it and have interest in it, and each fulfills their role as teacher and student, father and son, something extremely valuable to American identity. Baseball in 1962 was a great way to teach the concept and role of culture. Usually, culture is looked at as something that a country possesses, but groups as small as individual

Winters 3 teams also have their own culture. The way they interact, their dynamics, their rituals, what the wear, and what they value are all a part of their culture. All of these things were important to the boys as they learned to play together, and learned more and more about each other. The same can be said for Americans as they learn their own countrys culture, and how to represent that culture when they travel to other nations with different concepts of identity. Gaming the World comments on how culture is even changing to fit the rise of sports. It states, Such sports comprise what we have come to call hegemonic sports culture, defined by watching, following, worrying, debating, living, and speaking a sport rather than merely playing it (Markovits and Rensmann 13). Now, instead of having an American culture that focuses on playing sports, even those who arent physically athletic can become part of the sports world and become active in a growing tradition of American culture. Class is a major component of a nations identity. The Sandlot addresses this issue by showing how baseball is non-discriminatory for those who play it. Unlike golf or other sports that were considered gentlemans sports back in 1962, baseball could be played by anyone with a ball, bat, and glove, all of which were often passed down from father to son. Fields were provided by communities, or the game was played in the streets. As told by the name of the movie, The Sandlot, fields were not always nice and kept in good shape, but they didnt need to be. Baseball was not about social or economic class, it was a game made for Americans to play no matter how much money they had. Michael Butterworth said in his book, Baseball and Rhetorics of Purity, that Most importantly, the interplay between sport and media often serves to naturalize the discourses of race, gender, and class that privilege white, masculine, middleclass identity as the exemplar of national identity (56). Because The Sandlot was made showing a bunch of rowdy, middle to lower class boys playing a sport such as baseball and

Winters 4 learning so much from it, it changed the way Americans viewed the game. People who watched the movie saw that what used to be just a relief of boredom was actually very effective in teaching the ways of national identity to younger generations. Race can also be tied into this concept because although class was non-discriminatory, race definitely was segregated. In 1962, when the movie was portrayed, there was a separate league called the Negro League. This is interesting because in all other subjects already discussed, it has been about how sport has affected national identity. In the case of race, however, it shows how national identity has affected sport. Because America was going through such turmoil over switching from racist ways into equality, incorporating all races into one league of sport proved very difficult. Baseball still today has some of the fewest African American players out of any sport played in the country. This may be because it so strongly reflected American values back in the days of differences between African Americans and whites, that it remains off limits for most people of different races. Other sports that were brought into America or introduced at a later time, such as basketball and Americans version of football, were introduced when the country was in a state of equality, so all races were welcome to join. The Sandlot mentions the Negro League, and shows it in a positive light because it talks about how some very good players came out of the league. Also, one member of the group of boys is an African American, and none of the characters ever seem to notice or mention that his skin color is different from theirs. Gender in The Sandlot is rather amusing because it reflects an American stereotypical female back in the time of 1962. None of the females in the movie, (although there are very few and none with main roles), play sports or seem actively involved. The only girl that is even somewhat athletic is Wendy, the pretty lifeguard at the pool the boys swim at. She catches all of

Winters 5 their eyes by the way she wears her bathing suit and puts sunscreen on. Gender may be another aspect that is a reflection of how American identity affects sport and not the other way around. In 2011, women are much more active in America, from politics to media to their rights. This is shown by the way women teams are gaining popularity and representing America just as much as the mens teams do. One thing that is very important and a large part of American identity is the concept of role models. It is extremely emphasized that each younger generation have an older, wiser, generation to look up to and follow after. Baseball is a great way to introduce these role models to young people because they share common goals and aspirations with those professional players whom they look up to. Babe Ruth was the main one whom the boys in the film looked up to and admired. They all wanted to be him and to learn to be as good of a player as he was. Benny, the boy who helped introduce Smalls to the team at the beginning of the movie, went as Babe Ruth was doing. These legendary role models become iconic and symbols of Americas accomplishments and represent what type of people America is producing and what the definition of American national identity looks like. American identity is all about the biggest and the baddest. Each nation competes against each other to have the biggest malls, most millionaires, and newest cars. This is instilled into children at a young age, as shown in the movie. The boys may be playing a simple game in a field full of dirt, but they want to coolest shoes on the market, known as PF Flyers. These shoes were a ten year olds version of a multi-million dollar house. Just as the adults in the business industry compete with material items, the boys of The Sandlot did the same thing. It is a part of each nations identity to prove themselves against other nations in terms of renovations,

Winters 6 industrialization, and marketing. By having the coolest gear on the field, the boys proved their self worth just as politicians and leaders of nations do as they get older. One of the largest ideas of American national identity that is shown through the movie The Sandlot and baseball in general is how the rules of the game teach the ways of the corporate world, which distinguishes each nation from the other. Individual identity is discovered through the managerial makeup of each country, and how it does business and relates with its fellow countries. For example, the boys from The Sandlot have a rivalry baseball team, who drives their motivation to get better and play harder. Each country has a rival country that they must compete with and yet share a global community with. The boys from the movie had to share a local community with their rival team. This teaches that it is important to have civil relations and yet stay competitive with those around. This applies to the corporate world because business can use each other to grow and develop, yet they still compete for clients business. Globally all countries work together to trade and barter, yet they each want to be the leader of the global power and be known as the head country. Each country has its own identity and way of accomplishing this and it is all learned much simpler and at a younger age through the age of sports and team dynamics. Markovits and Rensmann said that, Sports shape and stabilize social and even political identities around the globe (3). This is not only because the impact they have on the economy and status of the world, but also because of what they teach the youth of each nation. Sports are also responsible for keeping each nation individualized and keeping their own identity separate from each other. Globalization is generally referred to as a good thing, but it is important for each country to remain apart in order to function politically, economically, and socially. Bairner even says in his book Sport, Nationalism, and Globalization, Sports

Winters 7 sociologists have been prominent in the struggle to ensure that the globalization process should not become identified with a relentless and irresistible surge towards total homogenization (11). This quote just shows that sports are effectively doing their jobs towards keeping global society united in competition, but unique in identity. Sport and national identity intersect in various ways, and many of these ways are shown in popular movies of American culture. It is important for these movies and stories to keep being told, to share the values and beliefs contained in each tale. Stories like that of The Sandlot remind Americans of what their identity is and the foundation for what it will become in the future. There is, therefore, a never-ending and politically consequential rhetorical struggle over national identity, and, because national identities are incessantly negotiated, nation building continually requires the services of advocates offering accounts of national character (Bruner 1). This excerpt from the book Strategies of Remembrance sums up how sport comes into play with each nations individual identity, and how these identities interact with each other. When he refers to the advocates offering accounts of national character, sport very well could be one of those advocates, along with every single athlete that makes his or her way into the world to represent their respected nation.

Winters 8 Works Cited Bairner, Alan. Sport, Nationalism, and Globalization. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2001. Print. Bruner, M. Lane. Strategies of Remembrance. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2002. Print. Butterworth, Michael. Baseball and Rhetorics of Purity. Tuscaloosa: The University of Alabama Press, 2010. Print. Markovits, Andrei and Rensmann, Lars. Gaming the World. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010. Print.