Millions and millions of people gather every year to watch and participate in sports. Although sports are a source of entertainment, they’ve also been the epicenter of many culturally and historically important moments. From advances in civil rights to breaking world records, let’s look at five unforgettable moments in sports history.
1. Jackie Robinson Breaks the Color Barrier
Jackie Robinson made his major league debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers becoming the first African-American player to ever play in the major leagues. Baseball had been racially segregated since the 1880s, with Black players only allowed to participate in the “Negro leagues”.
Robinson made his debut in front of a crowd of over 26,000 people. He would go on to win multiple awards, playing All-Star Games for six seasons and playing in six World Series, including Dodgers’ 1955 championship win.
2. Jesse Owens Wins Gold at the Berlin Olympics
The 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Germany, was supposed to be a showcase of Nazi Germany. The 1936 Games were the first to be televised, and Hitler believed it would be a perfect opportunity to promote his ideas of Aryan supremacy.
American track and field athlete Jesse Owens dominated the competition, winning four gold medals. Why was Owens’ performance so historic? Not only was Owens an African-American who dominated the rest of the world’s best athletes, but he debunked the “Aryan Myth.” During an event that was supposed to highlight white supremacy, a Black athlete stole the show.
3. The Miracle on Ice
No one had high hopes for the United States Olympic hockey team to compete against the USSR Olympic hockey team who had won the gold medal in 1964, 1968, 1972, and 1976. The 1980 “Miracle on Ice” was just that – a miracle.
Months before the 1980 game took place, the Americans lost to the USSR team in a 10-3 drubbing. However, in the last 10 minutes of the 1980 match, the Americans took the lead and prevented the Soviets from scoring again until the final horn sounded. The Olympic win was much needed for the morale of the American people as Cold War tensions were high and the United States was struggling economically.
4. The Battle of the Sexes
In 1973, retired tennis player Bobby Riggs argued that female tennis was a lesser sport and that even at 55, he could beat any of the top female players. After Riggs beat the then-number-one ranked Margaret Court, Billie Jean King – who had turned down Rigg’s challenge – knew she had to step up. The match was named “The Battle of the Sexes,” and the media spent months covering Riggs and King extensively leading up to the match.
Riggs didn’t spend much time training and preparing, whereas King continued playing in tournaments. The match was held in the Houston Astrodome and was watched by over 90 million people on television. In the first set of the match, King fell behind but eventually caught up and beat Riggs in three sets, 6-4, 6-3, 6-3. King’s victory was a pivotal moment in legitimizing female presence in professional sports.
5. Hank Aaron Breaks Babe Ruth’s Home Run Record
On April 8, 1974, Hammerin’ Hank Aaron broke the career home run record of 714 home runs set by Babe Ruth. A crowd of over 53,000 people, the largest in the history of Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, cheered on Aaron when he hit a 4th inning pitch off the Los Angeles Dodgers Al Downing.
Only 27 years after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball, an African American had claimed the most prolific record in all of baseball. This accomplishment set a new standard for African Americans in sports as he claimed the all-time home run record.