Much like the United States discovered about themselves with the deaths of Adams and Jefferson in 1826, microcultures of the past 50 years have been discovering in a similar matter; to have a history, we need heroes. Halls of fame aggregate a history and the heroes of their microcultures in order to build a distinct collective identity. The formation of a microculture's collective identity comes about through the same "rent in the social fabric" that creates a need for nostalgia. Turmoil or confusion in a private or community level, what Davis calls "identity discontinuities," drives an individual to seek the cultural types that are most familiar, most dependable and most accessible for a safe harbor in a time of uncertainty (49). Microcultures function on the precept of safety in numbers; that a shared memory in fishing, hang gliding or marbles is enough to participate in a community once again.
The importance lies in belonging. Being thrust into a mass society without the close communal ties one once had, such as small ethnic communities following mass immigrations in the early twentieth century or remote rural towns of the American frontier, strips an individual of their inherent identity and thrusts them into an uncaring and faceless world. People will then search for the interpersonal relations and cultural solidarities such as they once had. Memories of the past and a nostalgia shared amongst others also longing for nostalgic forms inhibits a permanent sense of community loyalty and helps to reaffirm a sense of belonging, or, as Saul Bellow wrote in Mr. Sammler's Planet, "I need my (recollections). Everybody needs his memories. They keep the wolf of insignificance from the door" (in Davis, 30). It's this "wolf of insignificance" that creates the strong bond of a distinct microculture.
As a function of the breakdown of American mass culture in the 60s, new left radical Casey Hayden suggested the need for culture on a more personal level.
People need institutions that belong to them, that they can experiment with and shape. In that process it's possible to develop new forms for activity which can provide new models for how people can work togetherů (in Brick, 103)
Hayden's new institutions focused on personal interaction and a reformation of community identity, now around a distinctly focused culture.
Exclusivity enhanced group cohesion. The need to belong relied on the narrow scope of a sport or hobby. The all inclusiveness of the American "melting pot" stripped people of their individuality, driving them into and undefined, homogenous whole. The rise of microcultures gave people identity, and halls of fame gave them heroes. The mere fact that a hall of fame believed their heroes warranted an honor as great as being elevated amongst "the immortals" leads each microculture to believe their activity has a significant amount of cultural currency. Not only do their heroes belong in a hall of fame, but being thus enshrined, they belong amongst "hall of famers" of all cultures. Leigh Dunker, horseshoe pitching great of the South Dakota Sports Hall of Fame, can be seen on a cultural par with International Swimming Hall of Famer Johnny Weismuller or Basketball immortal Julius "Dr. J" Erving. Each hall may boast of themselves as the only institution with any real importance (as sportswriter Tom Verducci has done in regards to inductions into the Baseball Hall of Fame), but, in building a pantheon of heroes for themselves, a microculture builds pride in itself and gives their population a standard of greatness (si.com).
Although halls of fame exist for a plethora of microcultures (including nationalities, industries, hobbies and others), sports-related activities seem to have the vast majority of shrines. Athletic activities take on nostalgic weight because, in those halcyon days gone past, they were experienced as recreation; people willfully participated in them to escape or enhance their lives. When they could escape their lives and play a sport, if even for the briefest of moments, they could become their heroes. Imagining themselves skating like Wayne Gretzky, jumping like Michael Jordan or throwing like Joe Montana drew people to watch and participate in sports. Sports also had a tendency to attract fierce loyalties. Little stirred people's spirits more than a competitive game against a rival team. Little elicits the intense emotions of ritualistic pride of "us vs. them" other than a sporting event can. Furthermore, watching sports is a purely democratic affair. For the price of a ticket, anyone can sit amidst a crowd of spectators undistinguished by class, race or gender lines and cheer on their team to victory. As baseball rose to prominence in the early twentieth century, the players often were completely indistinguishable from those who came to see them perform; the distinguishing characteristics were the uniforms and their phenomenal talents. The media and the location of the stadiums (often within the inner cities) made the players a readily accessible commodity to the fans; and it was the fans who were the ultimate arbiters of fame. The black and white of winning and losing, champion and runner-up and starter and reserve, makes sports one of the few areas in American life where one can draw a distinct line between those who are great and those who might only rise to "good" or even "mediocre." The great ones break records, reach milestones or realize success to such an extent that sports fans and observers can't help but deify them and their achievements.
Like the United States learned in trying to establish their own historic roots after 1826, in order to have a culture, you must have heroes. Halls of fame, in establishing themselves as the ideological center of microcultures, have made themselves the shrine at which these heroes are worshipped. Language that has usually been reserved for religion finds itself reconfigured to honor the "god-like" heroes that have been "deified" within these "shrines" of American microculture.