Saturday, October 29, 2011

Blame It on Ken Burns

War on Sports was inspired somewhat by the Ken Burns film “Baseball”. Burns, a reknowned documentary film maker, presents a well researched film that chronicles the early years of the New England cotton mill era. This was concurrent with the birth of industrialization in the United States. At this time 75% of the staff in these dangerous workplaces were overworked women and children who toiled in hazardous proximity to the spinning loom machinery.

Fourteen hours days were the rule rather than the exception in those times. The workers awakened to the factory bell at 4:40AM. They reported for work at 5:00AM. At 7:00AM they took a half hour breakfast break. Then they worked until noon when they took a thirty to forty-five minute lunch break. The factory would finally shut down at 7:00PM when the workers returned to their company owned barracks. They followed this routine six days a week for an average 73 hour work week.

On Sunday mornings literally everyone went to church. There was no socially acceptable alternative to attending church. During their entire week the only free time for workers was a brief few hours on Sunday afternoon. The women spent their free time discussing the intolerable conditions of their employment. Dissent began to brew. While the women dissented the men played a game known as “Rounders” that eventually became the "American Pastime": Baseball.

There were strict class barriers between mill owners and mill workers. The mill owners and managers did not fraternize with the mill workers. Management resided in the counting-house. No mill workers ever entered the counting-house. On a certain Sunday afternoon, to the great dismay of management, some mill workers became agitated to the point that they threw a rock through a window of the counting-house. This ultimately resulted in the first labor actions in the United States.

The mill owners recognized that the game of Rounders distracted the workers from their grievances during the potentially volatile Sunday afternoons. Increasingly the mill owners provided material support to the game in the form of facilities and equipment. Rounders developed into Baseball and eventually even the mill managers began to play.

Today the mill owners are mostly hedge funds and the mills are malls, but the owners still heavily promote sports. The indoctrination begins with children in school and while they sit in front of the TV. The hedge fund owners and managers may be sports fans but they still don't fraternize with the workers. They enjoy the game from their sky-box or immediately court-side.
The reasoning of the hedge fund owners is the same as that of yesteryear's mill owners: the distraction of the workers from their grievances. These days, a hodge-podge of sports related distractions is sweetened with mountains of junk foods, and affordable large screen TV's that magnify the content of the entertainments and commercials being fed to the public by the broadcast media and their sponsors. A distracted populace is less likely to be informed of issues that are critical to the well being of individuals and their communities at large. This contributes to the decline of societies, not their improvement as they move forward into the future. A balanced mix of entertainment, news, educational programs, recreational pursuits, health conscious nutrition, reliable employment and other building blocks of sensible living are essential for cultures to thrive and improve. The alternative is to continue to decline, decay and ultimately perish.


  1. Interesting story about the mils, was dumbfounded that Ken Burns would do a piece on baseball. Such a boring sport.

  2. Baseball has a rich tradition in the United States. Like all the other sports its purity has been polluted by too much money and not enough heart.