1990's Sports

Sports 1990's.mp4

Sports in the 1990's

Sports continued to climb in popularity in the 1990's with ballooning television coverage and increasing ad revenues athletes were making more money than ever before.  With expanding markets the number of stars in each professional sport grew and labor disputes on how the revenues from the leagues would be divided began to increase.

The battle over this financial windfall led to new contracts and new ways of doing business including the expansion of free agency in sports like basketball.  Baseball saw a number of labor dispute throughout the decade, but the 1990's was all about the Home Run race.  Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire set home run records time and time again until their final at bats in the 1997.  Those records stood until Barry Bonds took the record ten years later in 2007.

In the world of professional hockey the National Hockey League (which had been in the United States since 1924) came into it's own this decade.  With the trade of Wayne Gretzky to the L.A. Kings in 1988, the NHL finally had a big star in a big market and that was all it needed.  While not as popular as the Big Three - the NFL, NBA and MLB it is a growing profitable league that grew by more than 30% in the 1990's.

Professional boxing also becoming popular again during this decade due to the work of promoters like Don King and fighters like Mike Tyson.  Mike Tyson was so well known he even had a Nintendo game made after him that was a top seller.

Sports had become a central part of American culture and with expanding media markets it seems like only the sky was the limit for their wealth and success.


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

Task 2: Review the provided images and attached links for Sports during the 1990's (15 minutes)

Task 3: Digging Deeper into Sports and Pop Culture (20 minutes) 

Sports often have a natural way of reflecting what is going on in society out on the field of play - but, sometimes moments in sports become bigger than the sport itself and represents something bigger, something more. (Some examples of this would be the rise of the AAGPBL or Hank Aaron breaking the home run record or the 1999 Women’s Soccer World Cup.)

Investigate sports moments of the 1990’s and select ONE (1) moment, person or event in the decade that had meaning and significance outside of the sports world and is from any level of competitive play.

Create a Google Document or Google Slide to complete and submit assignment

Your response should include:

Task 4: Submit your work on GOOGLE CLASSROOM

Major League Baseball

During the 1990s, Major League Baseball experienced an increase in offensive output that resulted in some unprecedented home run totals for the power hitters of the decade. While just three players reached the 50-home run mark in any season between 1961 and 1994, many sluggers would start to surpass that number in the mid-1990s.  In 1996, Mark McGwire of the Oakland Athletics led the majors with 52 home runs despite missing part of the season. In 1997, both McGwire and the Seattle Mariners' Ken Griffey Jr. threatened the individual record of 61 -- set by Roger Maris in 1961 -- before ending the season with 58 and 56 home runs, respectively. (http://www.espn.com/mlb/topics/_/page/the-steroids-era )

Home Run Races - Sosa vs McGwire 

Midway through the 1997 season, McGwire was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals. The move set the stage for a memorable season when he and Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs battled for the National League home run title, during a year in which 13 different major leaguers hit at least 40 home runs.

Late in the season, it seemed inevitable that both Sosa and McGwire would break Maris' 37-year-old record, and it was just a matter of who would get there first. In a series in early September against Sosa and the Cubs, McGwire hit his 61st and 62nd home runs of the season to surpass Maris' number. By the final week of the season, Sosa had battled back to draw even with McGwire at 65 home runs. McGwire went on to finish with five home runs in his team's final series to reach 70 for the season. Sosa finished second in the NL in home runs with 66, 26 more than his previous season high. He was named National League MVP.

The home run onslaught captured the attention of the country and helped to reclaim popularity for the league four years after a strike had shortened the 1994 season. In 1998, McGwire and Sosa shared the "Sportsman of the Year" honor from Sports Illustrated.

McGwire's record stood for only three years, as Barry Bonds of the San Francisco Giants hit 73 home runs to top the majors in 2001. Bonds notched 73 homers despite failing to reach the 50-home run plateau in any prior season. He also hit his 500th career home run that season, and reached the 600 HR mark just a season later.

The home run heroics of the 1998 and 2001 seasons were called into question as McGwire, Sosa and Bonds were among a group of major leaguers linked to the use of PEDs in the following years.  (http://www.espn.com/mlb/topics/_/page/the-steroids-era )

National Basketball Association

The 1990s were one of the great stretches in NBA history, with some of the game’s greatest players plying their trade during this all-important decade. It was also a period of huge transition for the league, as guys like Larry Bird and Magic Johnson retired and Michael Jordan (and a slew of others) took their place as the faces of the league. It was, likewise, a glorious time to be a fan; the explosion of the sport’s popularity meant numerous national TV games, ubiquitous stars, and ample merchandising opportunities.

It was truly a great time to be a fan. You had distinct players on almost every team, many ways to rep your favorite squad, and could watch the game’s best play on TV almost every week in the featured national games. You also could be the envy of all your friends if you latched onto the coolest fashion trends, which thanks in part to ample TV advertising began to sweep the nation.  (https://www.complex.com/sports/2013/11/nba-fan-90s/starter-jackets )

Michael Jordan Leaves Basketball for Baseball

On October 6, 1993, Michael Jordan announced his retirement from the NBA. Well, his first retirement anyway.

Just a few months earlier, Michael Jordan led the Chicago Bulls to their third consecutive NBA championship, a six-game series win over Charles Barkley and the Phoenix Suns. Later that summer, Jordan was rocked with the news that his father, James Jordan, had been brutally murdered at a rest stop in North Carolina. The culprits were later tracked, convicted, and sentenced to life in prison. But Michael Jordan was lost and his love for the game of basketball was gone. He saw no reason to continue his NBA career and simply walked away at what seemed like the peak of his career. The announcement left the sports world in shock. But in true Jordan form, he wasn’t done stunning everyone.

In early 1994, Jordan announced that he was going to try his hand at baseball, the first sport he loved as a child and the sport his father always wanted him to play.

 During his retirement speech, he said that the desire to play basketball simply wasn’t there anymore and that he really had nothing left to prove. He had made millions upon millions upon millions of dollars. He had won three consecutive NBA titles, racked up scoring titles and endless accolades. And he did all of that in just nine seasons, really eight if you count his second season when he missed a ton of time due to injury. 

Some looked at it as a sideshow but Michael Jordan committed himself to it. He showed up early for private workouts and put everything he had into making himself a better player. Had it not been for the Major League Baseball strike that year, he may have never gone back to the NBA. No, he was never going to be the best baseball player. But I still think he did better than most 31-year-old guys who hadn’t truly played the game in a long time could have done.

Alas, he refused to cross picket lines during the MLB strike and wouldn’t be a replacement player and returned to the NBA in March 1995. He’d go on to win three more NBA titles with the Bulls. (https://www.sportscasting.com/michael-jordan-knew-he-was-going-to-leave-the-chicago-bulls-to-play-baseball-long-before-he-actually-did/ )

The Bulls, Michael and the NBA

In the 1990's there was a lot of talent in the NBA and it was one of the most influential leagues in America.  With starts like Michael Jordan, Karl Malone and Tim Hardaway games were captivating and the stars were worth paying attention to.  While there was talent throughout the league and the NBA was gaining influence in the fashion world it was increasingly clear that the best team in the NBA was the Chicago Bulls with Michael Jordan, Scottie Pipen and others.  The Chicago Bulls went on to win SIX NBA championships in the 1990's, winning one even the year Michael Jordan retired from basketball to try his hand at Major League Baseball.

As Michael Jordan noted in his retirement speech while the money was great and there were many stars in the league - the level of competition was not what Michael Jordan wanted.  He and other players wanted an expanded Free Agency system that allowed player to leverage their skills for higher salaries and more competitive teams.  By the end of the 1990's after years of negotiations and the first work stoppage in the leagues history a new era of Free Agency had arrived that created market caps and a system that was far fairer.  

This new system helped the league further expand, allowed athletes to double down on their skills and public image and allowed for a more competitive league.  To date this new system allows for superteams to emerge as players seek other highly skilled players to team up with in order to win a championship.  While there were many factors that went into this evolution of free agency many in the sports world look to the remarks of Michael Jordan at his first retirement and year long hiatus from the game that helped propel the league to where it is today.

National Football League

The NFL had continued expansion in the 1990's, professional sports were a highly sought after piece of television programming and advertisers and marketers were looking for new ways to cash in on this cultural phenomenon.  The birth of the big halftime show at the NFL Super Bowl became a huge draw and a way to diversify the viewing audience, it was no longer about just getting sports fans to watch the game it was about getting as many eyes on the screen as possible. 

Superstar Halftime Shows

For the first 24 years of the Super Bowl’s existence (1967–1990), the halftime show featured non-celebrities and was organized around a theme. Think marching bands, drill teams, and performance troupes. But at Super Bowl XXV in 1991, things changed. When then red-hot boy band New Kids on the Block headlined an “It’s a Small World”-themed halftime show, it marked the beginning of 29 consecutive years of halftime shows headlined by A-listers.

For the remainder of the 1990s, the halftime show was typically organized around a family-friendly theme and featured the well-known talent more tangentially. This is in stark contrast to the commercial bonanza that is the single-headliner halftime show that dominates now. For example, 1995’s was themed in honor of the new Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland and featured Patti LaBelle and Tony Bennett whereas 1999’s was a tribute to Motown featuring The Temptations, Smokey Robinson, Boyz II Men, and Queen Latifah. Nevertheless, the decade did feature two showcases of legendary pop stars that were much more similar to the current template — 1993’s game changing Michael Jackson set and 1996’s 10-song Diana Ross greatest hits medley. (https://medium.com/rants-and-raves/the-admirable-defiance-of-the-super-bowl-liv-halftime-show-97001e1c853f )

The OJ Simpson Trial

On the evening of June 12, 1994, O.J. Simpson's ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman were stabbed to death outside of Brown's Brentwood, California home. Their murders and the subsequent arrest of the former NFL star ignited a series of events that America's legal system and media had never seen before. 

Although he originally promised to surrender to authorities, Simpson flees and becomes a fugitive. He is later spotted off the freeway driving his white Bronco with his friend Al Cowlings in the driver's seat. Fans began to line the freeways to cheer him on. As helicopters follow Simpson's Bronco, an estimated 95 million people watch the 60-mile pursuit on TV (famously interrupting the broadcast of the NBA finals). Simpson ultimately surrenders at his house a little before 9 pm. He is arrested and thrown in jail without bail. 

Deliberating for less than four hours, the jury returns with a verdict of not guilty on two counts of murder. Simpson is a free man.   Many believe although the evidence seemed to clearly convict OJ Simpson the jury did not convict him due to a residual anger in the United States about a clear abuse of power and racial profiling by white officers who beat a black man, Rodney King, on live TV thanks to a reporting news helicopter and were acquitted of all charges. 

This moment sent a clear message to America that ongoing injustices and racism in the legal system needed to change - it just so happened to use a wealthy, successful former professional football player to do it. (https://www.biography.com/news/oj-simpson-trial-timeline )

National Hockey League

The 1990s were a decade of great change in the NHL. When the 1990s began, there were 21 teams in the NHL. When the calendar changed to the year 2000, there were 30. Two sets of expansion created a larger league than ever before; the first set began in 1991, when the San Jose Sharks joined the league. The next year the Tampa Bay Lightning were added along with the Ottawa Senators (with no connection to the old Senators other than the name). The following year, the Florida Panthers and Anaheim Mighty Ducks brought the NHL's total to 26. The Mighty Ducks inclusion was a source of great contention, particularly among hockey purists. The Ducks, owned by the Disney Corporation, were named after a team of children from a 1992 Disney film. Hockey fans thought this embarrassing; despite their objections, the Ducks stayed around, though the team was later sold, and their named changed from the Mighty Ducks to just the Ducks - it was only after this change that the team finally won a Stanley Cup. The second wave of expansion occurred at the close of the decade. In 1998, hockey came to Nashville in the form of the Predators; a year later, the Thrashers brought hockey back to Atlanta. (http://www.thepeoplehistory.com/icehockeyhistory.html )

Wayne Gretzky in Los Angeles

The stunning and unexpected trade that sent Edmonton Oilers superstar Wayne Gretzky to the Los Angeles Kings was a landmark event for the NHL that changed the entire landscape of the sport in the United States.

It started an immediate explosion of interest and growth in the NHL throughout America; the impact of the deal is still being felt today and will continue to affect the league well into the future.

Without Gretzky's move to Hollywood in 1988, the league may not have been able to successfully expand to nontraditional American hockey markets in western and southern states throughout the early-to-mid 1990s.

His popularity, combined with the fact that he played in Los Angeles, put the NHL on national television, made headlines throughout the United States and had a gigantic influence on the sport's growth in new markets.

Shortly after Gretzky boosted the popularity of hockey as a member of the Kings, the NHL added five expansion clubs, including two in Florida (Tampa Bay Lightning in 1992-93 and Florida Panthers in 1993-94) and two more in California (San Jose Sharks in 1991-92 and Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in 1993-94).  (https://bleacherreport.com/articles/1731020-how-the-wayne-gretzky-trade-changed-hockey-in-the-united-states )

Professional Boxing

The 1990s was one of the greatest decades in the history of professional boxing. It had some of the highest regarded champions of all time, some of the best match-ups of all time, the biggest upset in sports history, one of the most amazing trilogies ever, and a slew of talented and entertaining boxers who helped make this such a magical time in heavyweight history.  The 1990s saw 5 different undisputed champions. Mike Tyson, Buster Douglas, Evander Holyfield, Riddick Bowe, and Lennox Lewis all held that distinction at one time or another during this period. (https://www.boxing247.com/boxing-news/documentary-a-brief-chronology-of-the-1990s-heavyweight-division/69436 )

Tyson Takes a Bite Out of Holyfield 

On June 28, 1997, Mike Tyson bites Evander Holyfield’s ear in the third round of their heavyweight rematch. The attack led to his disqualification from the match and suspension from boxing, and was the strangest chapter yet in the champion’s roller-coaster career.

Mike Tyson enjoyed a rapid rise to stardom. In 1986 he became the youngest heavyweight champion in history by beating Trevor Berbick at just 19 years old. By 1989, however, Tyson had begun a long downward spiral into sports infamy. His erratic behavior included marrying and divorcing actress Robin Givens (after being accused by her of domestic violence), firing and suing his manager, breaking his hand in an early morning street brawl and two car accidents, one of which was reportedly a suicide attempt. Tyson also fired trainer Kevin Rooney and replaced him with notorious promoter Don King.

Holyfield came into the widely anticipated rematch on this day in 1997 even stronger than he had been for the first fight. In the first round, he hit Tyson hard with body shots while Tyson flailed away, ignoring the science of boxing his trainer had promised he would employ. By the end of the round, the crowd chanted Holyfield’s name, turning on the usual fan favorite Tyson. In the second round, Holyfield head-butted Tyson, opening a cut over Tyson’s right eye.

In the third round, Tyson lost what composure he had left. He spit out his mouthpiece, bit off a chunk out of Holyfield’s right ear and then spit it onto the canvas. Though Holyfield was in obvious pain the fight resumed after a brief stoppage, and then Tyson bit Holyfield’s other ear. With 10 seconds left in the third round, he was disqualified. His $30 million purse was withheld while Nevada boxing officials reviewed the fight.

Events in Tyson’s life took repeated turns for the worse in the aftermath of the fight, and culminated in his declaring bankruptcy–in part due to $400,000 a year spent on maintaining a flock of pet pigeons–and an arrest for cocaine possession. (https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/mike-tyson-bites-ear )