The 1990s Sports: Overview
The 1990s Sports: Overview
Most of what was newsworthy in 1990s sports had little to do with the field of play. Professional athletics had become big business, and the business of athletics kept getting bigger. Big cities paid for huge stadiums to lure league franchises. Even smaller cities built new minor-league ball-parks to promote the economic boom associated with sports. Team owners and players made huge amounts of money, only to demand even more. A strike in baseball over player salaries resulted in the cancellation of the World Series for the first time in ninety years. Competition in sports seemed to be defined by the bottom line, not the box score. Not surprisingly, the most successful sports movie of the decade, Jerry Maguire (1996), was not about an athlete but a fictional sports agent. His client's motto spoke for the decade: "Show me the money."
On a different front, scandals in sports sunk to unprecedented depths of sordidness. Tonya Harding was implicated in an attack on her figure-skating competitor Nancy Kerrigan. Kerrigan's attacker intended, but failed, to keep her out of Olympic competition. Even the Olympics, once a model of virtue, suffered a black eye when evidence came to light that International Olympic Committee officials had accepted bribes from cities seeking to host the Games. Boxer Mike Tyson behaved badly in and out of the ring; after he was convicted of rape and sent to prison, he partially bit off his opponent's ear during a bout. Basketball player Latrell Sprewell attacked and choked his coach, P. J. Carlesimo. Drug abuse among athletes, especially of muscle-building steroids, and rampant criminal behavior plagued sports at every level.
All of the attention on big money and poor behavior did not mean that baseball, basketball, football, golf, and hockey shut down for the decade. Baseball had some of its greatest moments ever because of Cal Ripken Jr., Mark McGwire, and Sammy Sosa. Michael Jordan, arguably the greatest player in the history of basketball (who also was voted by ESPN as the Athlete of the Century), was on the court for much of the decade and on the baseball diamond for one fascinating, if undistinguished, year. Football thrived at every level, and continued to be the nation's most popular sport. Golf, in need of rejuvenation, welcomed Tiger Woods into its professional ranks after he had decimated his amateur competitors for three years running. Ice hockey expanded into the southern and western states, becoming a truly national sport for the first time. Tennis, a thoroughly international sport, saw many Americans winning Grand Slam titles throughout the decade, and American Pete Sampras dominated the men's game. The Summer and Winter Olympic Games were separated by a two-year span for the first time in 1994, rather than taking place in the same calendar year as they had in the past. The United States hosted the Summer Games during the decade in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1996. Carl Lewis, Bonnie Blair, Kristi Yamaguchi, Dan Jansen, Shannon Miller, Michael Johnson, Picabo Street, and others won Olympic gold medals for the United States during the 1990s.
Sports for women, featuring some spectacularly capable athletes, emerged into the national consciousness during the decade. Athletes such as Mia Hamm (soccer), Lindsay Davenport (tennis), Picabo Street (skiing), Brandi Chastain (soccer), Sheryl Swoopes (basketball), Bonnie Blair (speed skating), Betsy King (golf), Tara Lipinski (figure skating), Venus and Serena Williams (tennis), and Jackie Joyner-Kersee (track and field) became household names. Attendance at women's sporting events also shot up. On July 10, 1999, the Women's World Cup soccer championship competition, in which the U.S. team defeated China, was played before 90,185 fans at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.