Did the Puritans hate all sports? If not, why did they hate some and not others?

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lprono eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Puritans regarded leisurely activities with suspicion, but they tolerated sports as long as they did not go against the principles of their religious commonwealth. Their attitude towards sports was marked by ambivalnce. They brought to American shores English games like stick ball and "ninepins and bowle" (which would later evolve into American baseball and bowling). Puritans also learnt lacrosse from Native Americans. Yet, as part of their religious reforms, Puritans suppressed the feast days of the traditional ecclesiastical calendar, as a consequence, abolished the popular communal games linked with them. Communal sports were allowed on training days, when civilians came together for military drills. On these occasions, they could practice communal sports such as wrestling, running, jumping and target shooting.

Puritans encouraged physical activity to promote a healthy life-style, but they condemned pursuits that excited physical passions, encouraged immorality or might distract from familial, work or religious responsibilities. Like other activities in a Puritan's life, sports had to be appropriate to one's calling and should not interfere with one's spiritual and religious life.

Diaries, letters, official documents and literature testify that games and sports were a reality in the seventeenth-century Puritan society. The poet Edward Taylor (1642-1729) makes extended use of game metaphors in his religious poetry and the ambiguous attitude of Samuel Sewall (1652-1730) towards ninepins in his diary is representative of a larger social ambivalence.

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