Sports The History and Evolution
Though for many sports today is just another part of their daily lives, it is easy to forget that just 120 years ago, many of the sports we take for granted did not yet exist, and those that did would be barely recognizable to the modern sports audience. The history of modern sports details an evolution, from games played primarily for entertainment and leisure to an industry rivaling any other in size and power.
Popular Culture Influence
With that evolution came an increase in influence. Sports over the last hundred years has affected modern popular culture and has often reflected changing social attitudes and standards. Sports has also seen advances in techniques and achievements in records and levels that reflect the commitment by sportsman, sportswomen and training to be the best. Fashions now often reflect sports clothing, partly because of the money injected into sports by fashion houses and partly because of our desire to emulate our heroes and heroines.
Along with an increase in influence over popular culture has come an increase in political influence. This can include athletes using their fame to run for office, office-seekers using athletes to boost their candidacy, boycotts to boost causes - most famously the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa and most recently the immigration law passed in Arizona - and using sports as a way to reach certain demographics.
There is, however, a downside to the use of sports in politics. This ranges from terrorists using the sports to gain exposure for their cause - most famously at the Munich Olympics - to countries using sports as a way of trying to demonstrate that their specific ideology is better than another, notably in Soviet Russia.
College Scholarship Opportunities
The growth of sports has also made possible the education of many young people who would otherwise never have that opportunity. Though today most of the noticeable college athletes often leave school early to enter the professional ranks of their sport, the vast majority of college athletes graduate and move on to a field other than their sport. For many of those students, sports made going to college possible, particularly through the use of college scholarships, which have increased in size and number as sports created bigger revenues for schools.
We will examine how sports embraced (or at least shoe-horned) integration, looking at Willie O'Ree playing hockey for the Boston Bruins, Prentiss Gault, a football player at the University of Oklahoma, Kenny Washington, the first African-American to play in the NFL, the whole-scale, and early, integration by the NBA, soccer's struggle to this day with racism, particularly in Europe, and, perhaps most famously, Jackie Robinson's entrance into baseball.
It is also impossible to talk about modern sports without considering the heavy influence of business. Sports and business have become forever linked, even in college, which is supposedly played by "amateurs" and not "professionals," despite the fact that the coaches and athletic directors make as much as their counterparts in the professional leagues. From sports on television to sponsorships to naming rights on stadiums, the history of the business of sports reveals that business tied itself to sports more and more in the latter half of the 20th century, really ramping up in the 1970's
As a part of the stream of business into sports, another change has been the influx of money, which many believe has become obscene and wrong. However, the fact of the matter is that when somebody is "The Best in the World" at anything, ordinary people want to watch or see those people perform - whether they are actors, musicians or athletes. As much as people decry the high salaries and excess of sports, the spectators and consumers of sports make it possible. Past the issue of public perception, however, there lie more serious issues. Like all things in life, when big money and business are involved, the opportunities and temptations to cheat or do whatever it takes to get ahead increase. In sports, this often involves performance enhancing drugs or gambling.
Additionally, the growth of big money and high salaries into the games has affected who can now afford to go to the events. Though this impact is most commonly associated with sports in the United States, this is not just an American phenomenon, but reflected in other countries and sports around the world. Soccer in the U.K is a great example. Many of the teams in the English Leagues were once supported by local blue-collar workers, with ticket prices costing about the same as one hour's worth of wages. Now, to get a good seat to watch a top British soccer team can easily cost more than 8 hours wages for a blue-collar worker. As sports have grown bigger and more profitable, they are driving out those who helped make growth possible.