Sports Moments that Shook the World
- Jackie Robinson debuts with the Brooklyn Dodgers, April 15, 1947 Branch Rickey was looking for someone "with guts enough not to fight back." It that way, Jackie Robinson was the perfect person to break the color barrier, courageous, resiliant, and perhaps more importantly, one hell of a ballplayer. America was fresh off victory in Europe, a society coming to terms with a changing identity and new, more prominent place in the world. For many, baseball seemed like the one constant to cling to, a haven outside of the changing times, symbolizing all that was right in American life. When a black man suddenly stepped up to the plate in one America's most hallowed stadiums, in its biggest city, wearing the colors of one its most beloved teams, that haven seemed to be crumbling. Right away, Jackie became a lighting rod for vicious racially-motivated hostility, both from fans, opponents, and even some of his own teammates. Through it all, Jackie just continued to do what he knew best, play ball. His number 42 now adorns every major league stadium, retired to all players, a symbol of the shared impact he made not only on his sport, but on every American even to this day.
- Joe Louis vs Max Schmeling, June 22, 1938 After beating Louis in 1936, Max Schmeling ingratiated had himself as Hitler's darling, a shining example of Aryan superiority. Two years later, Nazi ferver was at its peak and war was just over the horizon. A rematch was scheduled that summer, taking on a world of meaing as not only a battle of white vs black but Germany vs the United States in a preamble to the growing world conflict. FDR himself chided "Joe, we need muscles like yours to beat Germany" The symbolism deepened as Schmeling's Nazi publicist announced that their prize money would go to build German tanks. At Yankee Stadium in front of over 70,000 spectators, Louis resoundingly defeated in just under 2 minutes to become a nationwide source of pride across racial lines.
- Massacre at the 1972 Munich Olympics, September 5, 1972 It was 4:30 AM on the night of September 5th, 1972, and the Israeli Olympic team were fast asleep in their apartments within Munich's Olymic Village after a night out. Suddenly, eight masked men burst in carrying assault rifles and grenades. Despite putting up a fight, 2 Israelis were killed outright while nine others were taken hostage. Claiming to represent the terrorist organization Black September, the kidnappers demanded the release and safe passage of over 200 predominately Palestinian prisoners jailed in Israel. Refusing to negotiate, the Israeli and German authorities instead pretended to provide the terrorists transport to Cairo, planning to ambush them during the plane boarding. However, the rescue attempt was badly botched, and when the dust settled, 11 Israelis, 1 German, and 5 of the terrorists laid dead.
- Magic Johnson Announces that he's HIV positive, November 7, 1991 "Because of the...the HIV virus that I have attained, I will have to retire from the Lakers...today." AIDs had finally thrust itself into the public conciousness in a way we could no longer ignore. Previously considered a disease exclusive to homosexuals and junkies, America was now forced to accept that AIDs was everybody's problem. If it could happen to Magic, an athlete just about as beloved as they came, then surely it could happen to everyone.
- The Rugby World Cup in South Africa, June 1995 A year after Nelson Mandela had been elected president, effectively bringing an end to South African aparteid, the country was thrust onto the world stage with the hosting of the Rugby World Cup. In a country still bearing the scars of a divided populace, to non-whites the national Rugby team, the Springboks, represented white oppression and prejudice. Mandela recognized that if he could bring about a shared pride in the national team, it would go a long way towards uniting the country. Slowly, whites and blacks alike began to rally around the Springboks as they knocked off one team after the other to ultimately face New Zealand, a team considered to be nearly invincible, in the finals. As Mandela sported the Springbok colors, captain François Pienaar propelled his team to an improbable victory, bringing people of all races togethor in a scene that had only months earlier seemed unthinkable.
- Jesse Owens at the Berlin Olympics, August 1936 Owens kicks some German butt by winning four golds at the the Berlin games, Hitler's attempted showcasing of his resurgent country and their inherent Aryan superiority. Owens shocked the world by collecting gold in the 100 meters, 200 meters, 4x100 meter relay, and long jump.
- Muhammad Ali refuses to serve in Vietnam War April 28, 1967 The most popular and recognizable sports figure of his era, Muhammad Ali put his reputation, and freedom, on the line when he refused to accept his induction into the armed forces. Arguing that the war conflicted with his Muslim beliefs, Ali famously remarked "I ain't got no quarrel with them Viet Cong ... They never called me nigger." Upon his refusal, Ali was immediately arrested, stripped of his title, and made to forfeit his boxing license. Two months later, a jury found him guilty of refusing induction, a crime that carried the possiblity of 5 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Through a series of appeals, the case made its way all the way up to the Supreme Court, where Ali was finally acquited in Clay v. United States.
- Jack Johnson vs James Jeffries, July 4, 1910 In the early 20th Century, Jack Johnson was the most well known African-American on the planet, accumulating over 50 victories and capturing the World Heavyweight title that had just a year earlier been off limits to blacks. Racial outrage at this perceived injustice prompted a widespread call for a "Great White Hope" to take the title back for the white race. One after the other fell to Johnson before the former undefeated heavyweight champion James Jeffries emerged from retirement, citing an feeling of obligation to "demonstrate that a white man is king of them all." So it was that on July 4, 1910, the match billed as "The Fight of the Century" took place in front of 20,000 people in Reno, Nevada. Johnson pummeled Jeffries for 15 rounds before Jeffries' handlers called the fight, hoping to avoid the impending knockout that would furthor humiliate the supposed "Great White Hope." The outcome sparked riots across the country as black revelers clashed with angry whites, ultimately leading to 25 deaths.
- "Blood in the Water" water polo match between Hungary and the USSR, December 6, 1956 1956 was drawing to a close, and while Hungarian athletes were off competing in the Melbourne summer games, back home their countrymen were still reeling from the devastating carnage of a failed revolution against the Soviet occupation. When Hungarian water polo team met the USSR in hotly-contested semi-final match, it goes without saying that there was no love lost between the two bitter rivals. Over the course of a brutally physical face off, the Hungarian nationals mounted a 4-0 lead. Finally, the frenzy reached its breaking point with Soviet Valentin Prokopov striking Hungarian captain Ervin Zador, opening a bloody gash that immediately set off the Hungarian-dominated crowd into a near riot. A victorious Hungary would go on beat Yugoslavia in the finals to win Olympic gold, restoring some semblance of pride to an embattled nation.
- Pat Tillman leaves football to fight in Iraq, 2002 A promising defensive back for the Arizona Cardinals, Pat Tillman would forgoe a $3.6 million contract to instead serve his country. He took part in the initial invasion of Iraq before being deployed to Afghanistan, where on April 22, 2004, he died from friendly fire. What followed was a cover-up that rose to the highest ranks of the military, as authorities scrambled to protect public perception of the war effort by purporting that Pat had died heroically as a result of enemy fire. Congressional inquiries would later prove that superiors had warned witnesses not to divulge the true nature of his death, ultimately contributing further to the growing distrust of goverment and anti-war sentiment.
- The Miracle On Ice, February 22, 1980
- The Battle of the Sexes, Billie Jean King vs Bobbie Riggs, September 20, 1973
- Colombian defender Andres Escobar scores an own goal in the 1994 World Cup, June 22, 1994
- Tommy Smith and John Carlos give black power salute on Olympic medal stand, October 16, 1968
- All-black Texas Western defeats all-white Kentucky (including a young Pat Riley) in the 1966 NCAA men's basketball final, March 19, 1966
Sometimes its more than just a game. Sport has the power to effect, and be effected by, the forces of history in a way that few other other institutions can. It can to both incite and unite, change minds and inflame passions. The following moments blur the line between the sports world and the real world.