1900s: Sports and Games
1900s: Sports and Games
Just like today, Americans were sports crazy in the first decade of the century. The sports of baseball, basketball, football, and boxing all expanded in popularity. The Olympics became an international spectacle of sports. Not content to remain spectators, Americans participated in bowling, golf, and lawn tennis.
Baseball had grown in popularity throughout the nineteenth century and was dominated at the beginning of the decade by the eight-team National League. The American League was formed in 1900 to challenge the National League. By 1903, the two leagues began to cooperate and play games against each other. Attendance at professional baseball games boomed in the decade, growing from 3.6 million in 1901 to 7.2 million in 1910. Fans across America became obsessed with the World Series, which pitted the American League and National League champions against each other. Until 1947, professional baseball was segregated, which meant that black players could not play in the major leagues. Undaunted, African Americans formed their own baseball leagues. Several of the players established reputations that rivaled those of white baseball greats like Ty Cobb (1886–1961).
College football was the second most popular sport in the nation and the dominant sport in colleges throughout the nation. The University of Michigan was the dominant team of the decade, rolling up a 55–1–1 record between 1901 and 1905. Michigan defeated Stanford in the first Rose Bowl game in 1902, setting the stage for major bowl contests between the top football teams. College football was controversial, however; its extreme violence sometimes led to the death of players, and some teams kept players on the roster (list of participants) even when they were not students. College football was reformed in 1906, setting the stage for the modern rules that still govern football today.
The most controversial sport of the decade was boxing. Often conducted without gloves, boxing matches could be bloody affairs. Boxing was outlawed in many states and reformed in most others. But the so-called sport of gentlemen had its fans, and professional boxing matches, especially in the heavyweight class, drew a great deal of attention. No boxer drew more attention than Jack Johnson (1878–1946), who became the first African American to hold the heavyweight title when he defeated Tommy Burns (1881–1955) in 1908. Racist white fight fans were outraged, and they searched for a "Great White Hope" to defeat Johnson. But Johnson did not lose his title until 1915.
Invented in 1891, basketball was in its infancy in the first decade of the century. It was played first in YMCA clubs and Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) leagues and was soon taken up by colleges. By 1908, the University of Chicago played the University of Pennsylvania in the first collegiate national championship game. Professional basketball also existed, but it would be years before pro basketball drew much attention.