Sport and the American Occupation of the Philippines: Bats, Balls, and Bayonets


Today we are joined by Gerald Gems, Professor of Kinesiology at North Central College in Naperville, Illinois, and the author of several books on sports history including Sport in American History: From Colonization to Globalization (2017), Sport and the American Occupation of the Philippines (2016)and Blood and Guts to Glory: A History of Sports (2014).  Gems is also the former president of the North American Society for Sport History, the former vice-president of the International Society for the History of Physical Education and Sports, and a former Fulbright Scholar.

In Sport and the American Occupation of the Philippines: Bats, Balls, and Bayonets (Lexington Books, 2016), Gems explores the history of sport during the US occupation of the Philippines.  Based on extensive primary and secondary source research, Gems uses hegemony theory to investigate how and why American colonizers imported ideas about sports to the Philippines, and in what circumstances Filipinos adopted, adapted, or rejected these sporting practices.

He shows that American politicians, military planners, missionaries, and businessmen saw sports like baseball and basketball as essential for keeping soldiers physically and morally fit. Sports were also used to teach Filipinos American values. These included capitalism, militarism, and strong work ethics.

Filipino sportsmen and women played some American sports, first baseball and later basketball, but on their own terms.  For many Filipino athletes, sports became a way to assert Filipino nationalism.  When they played basketball against US soldiers, they overcame American height advantages by developing a fast-paced style and they likened their victories to the rapid strikes of Filipino guerrillas against the occupying forces.

Gems’ work has resonance beyond the Philippines and will be interesting reading for scholars studying the translation of American ideas in similar colonial contexts.

Listen to the podcast here:

(Duration: 54:52 — 50.2MB)

You may also be interested in:

Nicholas Trajano Molnar, American Mestizos, the Philippines, and the Malleability of Race, 1898-1961

Harrod Suarez, The Work of Mothering: Globalization and the Filipino Diaspora.