The Century in Sports

The Eighth Annual Village Voice Sportswriters' Poll



In the Sky with Diamonds

Screw Michael Jordan and Mark McGwire—if there's a sports figure of the decade for the '90s, it can only be one person: Judge Roy Hofheinz.

Sure, the former Houston Astros owner (and real estate baron, media magnate, and LBJ campaign director) died in 1982, when nobody had even heard of Jerry Seinfeld. But before departing the mortal plane, he came up with an idea that would transform sports forever: In 1965, he walled off the upper tier of the brand-new Astrodome, installed mini-apartments with closed-circuit TVs, and dubbed them Sky Boxes.

No one had ever thought of selling corporate condos at the ballpark before Hofheinz—and soon enough, no one would be able to imagine a sporting event without them. And so the Astrodome begat SkyDome, with its in-stadium hotel and health club; and SkyDome begat Camden Yards, the first sports facility to combine steel-and-brick design with shopping-mall merchandising; and Camden Yards begat the swarm of faux-traditional sportsplexes that are now cluttering the nation's abandoned downtowns.

In the last decade, nearly every burg in the land has been shaken down for sports payola, and mostly for one reason: the allure of luxury suites, which can rake in hundreds of thousands of dollars apiece in the space that would otherwise have pulled in just a handful of ordinary, $20-a-pop patrons.

If there's a light at the end of the tunnel, it's that with $2 billion worth of new ballparks and arenas opening every year, sports marketers are now worrying about a luxury-box glut; even the dotcom economy, it seems, can't generate enough fannies to fill all those plush seats. So pass those $5 nachos, and let's root, root, root for a market crash. —Neil deMause



Gender and Jockdom

"With the single exception of the improvement of the legal status of women, their entrance into the realm of sports is the most cheering thing that has happened to them in the century just past." That's just what I wanted to say, but researcher Anne O'Hagan said it first—in 1901, just one year after women competed in the Olympics for the first time. A hundred years ago, Bloomers Girls baseball teams were competing against minor league men's teams all over the country, women had secured their own singles category at Wimbledon, basketball had made its way into some women's colleges, and in a few noted instances, women were even boxing. Nonetheless, well into the 1920s, physical education instructors were still insisting that girls be barred from their classes lest they forsake their femininity.

That, of course, was the point, first-wave feminists knew. They argued for increasing women's access to athletics precisely because they recognized that physical strength, the camaraderie of team play, competition, and not least, the joy of unfettered movement, were intimately linked to possibilities for women's liberty. "Bicycling has done more to emancipate women than any one thing in the world," said Susan B. Anthony.

Half a century later, in women's postwar refusal to be bought out of the public sphere with new household gizmos and sparkling suburban kitchens, they renewed their demands for a place on the playground. That generation, too, understood that if sport built men's characters and prepared them for leadership, then it could do—must do—the same for women. More than that, they grasped most viscerally that liberation would be complete only when women felt strength in and sovereignty over their own bodies. The feminist movement produced what can easily be declared the most revolutionary agent for change in American sports of the 20th century: Title IX.

The 1972 legislation that banned discrimination on the basis of sex in federally funded college programs instantly changed the world. In 1970, 294,000 girls participated in interscholastic high school sports; by 1973 the number had leapt to 1.3 million. No one doubts that without Title IX, there would have been no Olympic softball team, no WNBA, and no Brandi Chastain whipping off her shirt in World Cup triumph.

The downside—apart from the fact that to this day, hardly any university complies fully with Title IX—is that as women got more opportunities and recognition as athletes, men got more control: They assumed coaching and administrative positions for female teams that were once held by women. Meanwhile, promoters—forgetting what got us here—do their darndest to distance women's sports from feminism and actually market the athletes' femininity more than their skill. Unwittingly, they are abetting current well-funded efforts—by the folks who brought us the attack on affirmative action—to reverse Title IX. If they succeed, they'll set women's sports—and women in general—back at least 100 years. —Alisa Solomon



The Fall of Man = The Rise of Football

Surely, one candidate for the top sports story of the century just-ended is the ascendance of pro football. The explanation routinely offered points to television and the foresight of Pete Rozelle. The overtime championship game between the Colts and Giants in 1958 is usually cited as the decisive event. But professional football would not become the No. 1 American spectator sport for more than another decade. Still, the '50s marked the crucial turning point.

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