1970's Sports

1970's Sports.mp4

Sports in the 1970's

Professional sports begin to explode in the 1970's.  As the United States continued to grow it's interest and fascination with the entertainment industry, and as television comes into its own - professional sports took hold and leveraged them for their own success.  

By the 1970's sports leagues were now able to negotiate their own TV contracts after John F. Kennedy passed a series of laws.  This shift dramatically increased the amount of money these leagues received from broadcasters and the need for them to be highly viewed programming. Professional sports became must see TV by 1979.

African American athletes became increasingly welcomed into the professional sports world and brought with them an added burst of talent and interest.  And Athletes themselves see the power of their new found stardom.  The era of free agency arrives in Major League Baseball and it would change how athletes were paid and the start of the TV sports star.


Task 1: Watch the Introductory Video to this Unit (5 minutes)

Task 2: Review Sports Events and Athletes Included on Bracket and Conduct Research (45 minutes)

Task 3: Prepare for Bracket Debate (5 minutes)

Task 4: Sweet 16 Bracket of 1970’ Sports (45 minutes) 

In the 1970’s the prominence and importance of sports in the United States continued to rise, in part due to the increasing television programming.  The decade introduced some iconic figures, memorial moments and important organizational shifts to professional sports organizations.  You will investigate these people and moments to name the most iconic sports figure or moment of the 1970’s.  

The Bracket:

1970's Sports Bracket

Hank Aaron

Born into humble circumstances in Mobile, Alabama, Hank Aaron ascended the ranks of the Negro Leagues to become a Major League Baseball icon. He spent most of his 23 seasons as an outfielder for the Milwaukee and Atlanta Braves, during which time he set many records, including a career total of 755 home runs. Aaron was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982, and in 1999, MLB established the Hank Aaron Award to annually honor the top hitter in each league.  (https://www.biography.com/athlete/hank-aaron )

Impact on Baseball

With that swing of the bat, along with the 714 that preceded it, Hank Aaron not only passed Babe Ruth as Major League Baseball’s career home run leader, but he also made a giant leap in the integration of the game and the nation. Aaron, an African-American, had broken a record set by the immortal Ruth, and not just any record, but the all-time major league home run record, and in doing so moved the game and the nation forward on the journey started by Jackie Robinson in 1947. By 1974 Aaron’s baseball career was within three years of sunset, but the road he’d traveled to arrive at that spring evening in Atlanta had hardened and tempered him, perhaps irrevocably, in ways that only suffering can produce. Aaron finally shrugged off the twin burdens of expectation and fear that evening, and few have ever stood taller.  (https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/hank-aaron/ )

Money in Sports

More than anything else, money changed professional sports during the 1970s. In football and baseball, moneymaking television contracts led to changes in the rules and a lengthening of the season. Playoffs in both sports extended the seasons and brought huge revenues. Players wanted a share of the increased revenues, and players unions organized to demand higher pay and more freedom to move from team to team. In baseball, a policy called "free agency" moved players around and helped a number of players reach salaries at or near $1 million a year.  (https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/culture-magazines/1970s-sports-and-games )


By the early 1970s, football had overtaken baseball as the country’s favorite spectator sport. Television contracts, sold-out stadiums, merchandising and sponsorship deals ensured an abundant, steady flow of cash.

In the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s, the growth of the NFL Players Association — first formed in 1956 with Cleveland players as a nucleus — gave players more say in how their profession developed and contributed to a big boost in salaries. So, too, did the ever-rising profitability and popularity of the game. (https://operations.nfl.com/the-players/evolution-of-the-nfl-player/ )


 In 1967, a league popped up that would rival the NBA for attention and, more importantly, players, the American Basketball Association (ABA). Eleven franchises - in New York, Pittsburgh, Indiana, Minnesota, Oakland, Virginia, Anaheim, Dallas, New Orleans, Houston and Denver - formed to join the ABA, with the goal of luring away NBA stars and rookies out of college. The NBA, as a response, expanded, adding five more teams over three years and then three more teams in just the 70-71 season alone. 

With the challenge of the ABA to NBA supremacy, perhaps the biggest change was in salaries. The late 1960s saw an explosion in player contracts, with some top rookies now getting deals in the range of $250 to $300 thousand dollars (in today's money, around $1.5 to $1.7 million, getting far closer to modern standards of rookie contracts). The NBA, desperate to keep the players in their league and away from the ABA, felt they had no choice but to pay increasingly high salaries.  (http://www.thepeoplehistory.com/basketballhistory.html )


The Birth of Free Agency in 1976

It came about because of a landmark 1975 ruling by the late Peter Seitz, an independent arbitrator who – as part of a three-person board with one representative from the owners and one from the players – determined that veteran pitchers Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally should become free agents after playing a full season without signed contracts. When Seitz ruled in favor of the two pitchers, the MLB owners panicked. They worried that most players would become free agents on an annual basis, creating chaos. Not wanting that to happen, the owners negotiated a compromise system that allowed players to become free under two conditions: a) their contracts had expired and b) they had accumulated at least six years of major league service time.

It was an adept piece of negotiation by Marvin Miller, the head of the Players’ Association. He felt that all-out free agency might be bad for the players; if all players became free agents every year, then they would create an over-saturation of the market and actually compress salaries for all but the superstar players. By introducing a system of six-year free agency, Miller ensured that only a few players would become free each winter. Miller figured that demand would increase for those players, thereby pushing their salaries higher and higher. Miller figured right. (https://baseballhall.org/discover/short-stops/free-agency-still-fuels-baseball )

Black Athletes in Professional Sports

Because sports were among the first, and most high profile spaces to accept African Americans on relative terms of equality, sport has had a unique role within American culture. Within black communities, sports have always been political. From the refusal to allow African Americans an opportunity to compete to the formation of African American segregated sporting teams and leagues; from the hard won battles to compete at the highest levels of the game to the introduction of African American expressive cultural practices within the games, the African American presence in sports has had social and political consequences.  (https://nmaahc.si.edu/explore/exhibitions/sports )

Kenny Washington Breaks the NFL's Color Barrier.mp4


Several NFL teams stood out for their racist beliefs, including the Washington Redskins, the last professional football team to integrate, signing Bobby Mitchell in 1962. By the 1970s Blacks were among the NFL's top stars. In the late 1980s, Black players made gains in positions from which they had been discouraged, particularly as quarterbacks.

Among Blacks to play quarterback in the NFL were Willie Thrower, the first Black quarterback in the league (1953), James Harris, Marlin Brisco, and Doug Williams, the only Black quarterback to lead his team to a Super Bowl win. Although Blacks have excelled on the football field they have not been welcomed in management positions. While 67 percent of all players in the NFL are Black, there are no Black owners and there was one general manager.  Ozzie Newsome became the first Black General Manager of an NFL team in 2002. He runs the front office for the Baltimore Ravens. Floyd Reese is currently in the same position with the New Your Giants who won the Super Bowl in 2009 and 2011 and Houston's Rick Smith is the third.  (https://aaregistry.org/story/black-contributions-to-american-professional-football-are-many/ )

NBA 70s Tribute.mp4


The most dramatic effect of integration on the game was an increase in the number of players from urban environments. These men played what some call street basketball. The influence of this style was most obvious during the 1970s with a number of players from urban backgrounds. Earl "The Pearl" Monroe, Julius "Dr. J." Erving, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar pushed the game into a faster pace, and higher scoring.

Monroe, a classy dribbler and great passer, was named rookie of the year after his first season with the Baltimore Bullets. Julius Erving led the New York Nets of the American Basketball Association (ABA) to consecutive titles in 1974 and 1975 before joining the Philadelphia 76ers in the NBA. Dr. J, as Erving was known, was one of the most creative players in the league. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, a conscientious and innovative athlete easily dunked the ball over his opponents and developed a new and virtually unstoppable move known as the Sky-Hook. He helped lead the Los Angeles Lakers to five NBA titles during his 25-year career and set the standard for contemporary centers to this day. Other standouts of this era included Willis Reed, who played with a broken leg during the seventh game of the 1970 NBA finals, his teammate Walt Frazier, and Elvin Hayes of the Washington Bullets, each of whom were also products of street basketball. (https://aaregistry.org/story/the-nba-african-americans-love-this-game/ )

MLB Prime 9 Team of the 70s.mp4


While the American League still didn't feature as many black stars during the 1960s, Armour's research found that the percentage of non-white players in the Junior Circuit did rise significantly during the decade, and there were some firsts along the way.

Most notably, Elston Howard of the New York Yankees became the first black player to win the American League MVP in 1963. A couple years later, Frank Robinson became the first (and still only) player to win an MVP in both leagues when he won the AL MVP in 1966.

It was in the 1970s that the two leagues finally featured about the same amount of non-white star power. Armour found that the percentage of non-white stars in the American League trended toward 50 percent during the decade, while the percentage of non-white stars in the National League trended down toward 50 percent.

The National League had Joe Morgan, Ferguson Jenkins and a getting-better-with-age Willie Stargell. The American League had Rod Carew, Reggie Jackson and Jim Rice. Combined, the two leagues produced quite a few black MVPS during the '70s. (https://bleacherreport.com/articles/1604333-tracing-black-players-mlb-impact-from-jackie-robinson-to-todays-game )