1990s: Sports and Games
1990s: Sports and Games
The 1990s boasted some of the greatest athletes and athletic achievements of the century, and saw a real flowering in women's sports. Leading the way was the man who many considered to be the best athlete of the century: Michael Jordan (1963—). Jordan led the Chicago Bulls to six National Basketball Association (NBA) championships in the decade, dominating the league the way no team had done in thirty years. Tiger Woods (1975—) became golf's most dominating player since Jack Nicklaus (1940–) and an admirable role model for minority athletes who had once been banned from the sport. Two of major league baseball's most hallowed records also fell in the decade. Mark McGwire (1963–) and Sammy Sosa (1968–) engaged in a summer-long home run derby that ended with McGwire setting a new record for home runs in a single season with seventy runs. Cal Ripken Jr. (1960–) broke the fifty-six-year-old record for consecutive games played set by Lou Gehrig (1903–1941) by appearing in his 2,131st game in 1995. Also in baseball, two teams dominated the decade: the Atlanta Braves in the National League, and the New York Yankees in the American League.
Women made a big splash in sports in the 1990s. The U.S. women's soccer team won the first Women's World Cup in 1991 and then won it again in 1999. In the latter game, American player Brandi Chastain (1968–) shot the game-winning penalty kick, ripped off her jersey (revealing a black sports bra), and raised her fists in victory. The image was seen everywhere as a signal that women's sports had arrived. Of course the soccer team had help. American gymnasts won the team gold at the 1996 Summer Olympic Games, and American women hockey players won the gold medal at the 1998 Winter Olympics. A women's professional basketball league, the Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA), was founded in 1997 and continued to flourish in the 2000s. Finally, two African American sisters, Venus Williams (1980–) and Serena Williams (1981–), showed signs of dominating the world of tennis—and being media stars at the same time.
An interesting sidelight to the major professional sports in the 1990s was the emergence of a new kind of sport called "extreme sports." Pioneered by Generation X thrill seekers, extreme sports were either brand new ideas—like bungee jumping—or variations on old sports—like street luge or sky surfing. Cable-TV sports network ESPN recognized these sports by broadcasting the X Games beginning in 1995 as a kind of alternative Olympics. By 1998, snowboarding had become an Olympic sport, and other sports hoped to gain similar recognition.