1930s: Sports and Games
1930s: Sports and Games
The 1920s were thought to be the "golden age of sports." Throughout the 1930s, however, capable athletes broke previous records in rapid succession. Swimmers swam faster, track stars ran faster, horses raced faster, and race-car and powerboat drivers broke new speed records. The rules of basketball and the design of the football were changed to make the games move faster and to increase scores. In the 1920s, single individuals—such as Babe Ruth 1895–1948) in baseball, Jack Dempsey (1895–1983) in boxing, and Bobby Jones (1902–1971) in golf—were called the best in their sport. In the 1930s, many athletes contributed to their sports. Few, except perhaps Joe Louis (1914–1981) in boxing, Babe Didrickson (1911–1956) in track and golf, and Jesse Owens (1913–1980) in track and field, became shining stars.
Because of the Great Depression (1929–41), many sports teams began attracting audiences in inventive ways. They started to find ways to earn money without increasing ticket prices. As a result, many sports became more and more commercialized. Radio broadcasts brought sports to more people than ever. Although the broadcasts were free to listeners, the price for broadcast rights and the commercial airtime brought sports teams more money. Bright stadium lights made it possible to draw huge crowds to night baseball games. The organization of all-star games boosted attendance at both baseball and football games. Heavy betting increased interest in boxing, making it America's second favorite sport after baseball during the decade.
Although the majority of sports remained segregated during the decade, in baseball the high-quality play of the teams in the Negro Leagues gained attention from white baseball fans. Track and field athletes like Jesse Owens and Eddie Tolan (1908–1967) gained international acclaim. Women gained recognition as athletes in the 1930s as well. Babe Didrikson entered 634 different sporting events during the decade and won 632 of them. She lost one basketball game and was disqualified from a high-jump competition after having apparently set a world record. Sonja Henie (1912–1969) popularized figure skating. Both Didrikson and Henie became millionaires by demonstrating their sporting abilities. Virnett Beatrice "Jackie" Mitchell (1914–1987) was the first woman to sign with a professional baseball team. Her fame soared when she struck out both Babe Ruth (1895–1948) and Lou Gehrig (1903–1941) in an exhibition game in 1931. Amelia Earhart (1897–1937) set a world record when she flew from New Zealand to Ireland in 1932.
People throughout the United States were fascinated by sports. Children started playing baseball in Little Leagues. Older baseball players could compete in various amateur and semiprofessional leagues, which held local, state, and sometimes national tournaments. Bowling leagues started across the country. The United States Lawn Tennis Association promoted tennis as a sport for everyone—everyone at this time except African Americans, who were invited to play by their own American Tennis Association. At home, board games were popular entertainment. Monopoly was introduced, a game that allowed people to buy properties and manage amounts of play money that few had in reality.