November 18, 2012
Were blood sports an essential part of the early modern era? Do they have a place in today’s society?
Blood sports of Great Britain and its American colonies in the early modern era encouraged violent tendencies among men. These tendencies were necessary for use in contemporary warfare. Blood sports also helped to solidify class divisions by providing an avenue for the nobility and the rich to demonstrate their superiority over one another and the rest of society. In the modern world, however, violence that leads to bloodshed has no place in spectator sports. Violence in sports encourages aggression in, and violence among its spectators. The popularity of blood sports in the early modern era reflects that men of the age were genuinely violent creatures who could derive a vicarious excitement through watching the subjects of blood sports fight. A contemporary study of violence and its role in sports found that: “Despite the fact that few males truly enjoy hitting and being hit, and that one has to be socialized into participating in much of the violence commonplace in sport, males often view aggression, within the rule-bound structure of sport, as legitimate and “natural” . This finding sheds light on the reason that blood sports of the early modern era were mainly popular among men. Something in a man’s genetics gears him towards violent and aggressive tendencies. Research done on crowd violence as studied in the context of contemporary “soccer hooliganism” in Great Britain found also that: displays of intimidation and aggression at soccer matches involve ritual violence, consisting of fantasy-driven status posturing by young males who want to be defined as tough and manly” . This finding exemplifies how spectators who are just watching sports can be just as stimulated as the actual subjects of the sport. For young men watching soccer, the game is the opposite of an outlet for their violent tendencies. In fact, if anything, watching the game incites masculine yearnings for violence and aggression. The study goes on to state that: “violence at soccer matches is an expression of alienation among disenfranchised working-class men” . This finding is relevant to the early modern viewers of blood sports because it shows that it is male human nature to deal with societal frustrations especially, ones regarding an individual’s class status, with anger and violent actions. In fact, the study even found that “certain forms of violence” are triggered by “class conflict in society” . Lastly, the study found a positive correlation between the amount of violence in a given sporting event and the amount of violence it incites in its viewers: “If spectators perceive players’ actions on the field as violent, they are more likely to engage in violent acts during and after games” . The study also showed that certain conditions that are commonplace in a spectator sport setting also promote violence. Larger crowd size, greater percentage of young males in the group, and stronger identification of fans with their teams, were all found to be factors that increased the likelihood and severity of violence. The locales in which blood sports could be viewed in the early modern era had all of these characteristics. The feeling of being in an arena filled with other men watching blood sports mimicked the medieval experience of going to war. Just as violence in sports does in modern times, violence in early modern blood sports worked to maintain the notion that women are not as capable as men because they are physically weaker. Up until the advent of modern warfare, armies were constituted largely of young males crowded together tightly; all of whom felt a great identification with a sort of team, the army, whom they were fighting among for the common cause of protecting their families. Another topic discussed by the study was the idea of an infectious “emotional contagion”. The study found that one...
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