Ok, lil_brown_bat, I was tired and obviously didn't see Billie Jean King's name up on the post. Good thoughts on her contributions. I know she wasn't completely instrumental in the whole Title IX process (I meant to say "one" of the reasons, but alas, once again, I was tired; good catch on that point) but like in so many areas of life, it was her high-profile presence that provided many of the pushes you talked about. As for the rest of my list, here it is: Ali - I pick him because of the way his stand against the government was one of many things that forced social change in America. Whether you think it was a good or bad thing (the social change, that is), Ali was at the forefront of the country's resistance to the war in particular and the government in general. This is on top of what he has done since then. Truly an amazing person. Jackie Robinson - His spot on this list is unquestioned I would imagine. He broke down so many racial doors with the way he dealt with the racism as the first black ballplayer in what was then America's game (football probably holds that top spot now). Wayne Gretzky - His influence on the game of hockey can be seen in California, Arizona, Texas and Florida. There is no way the league would've expanded into those markets if his foray into Los Angeles wasn't as successful as it was (from a money standpoint, not for him, but for the league itself). While expansion might ultimately prove to be too much for the NHL to deal with in the long run, it was Gretzky who made the sport popular in the hotter places in this country. Michael Jordan - I put his Airness on my list mostly for the reasons qbert72 stated in his post. Jordan took a game that was gaining momentum in the mid-80s and shot its popularity and marketability through the roof. His excellence on the court was unquestioned but his profitability off the court (for himself and for every team and player in the NBA because of the increased product and TV revenue) might have been even more unquestioned. All you have to do is look at his feasibility now several years past his playing days. He's still one of the highest paid athlete endorsers. Tiger Woods - Basically, just read what I wrote about Jordan. The same applies for Tiger but on a grander scale, because he took a game that had a niche following (in terms of TV and marketing) and made it into one of the top sports in the country in these areas. Tournament purses increased dramatically in his wake and golf became one of TV's darlings. For proof of this all you have to do is realize that most PGA tournaments weren't even televised until the weekend before he arrived on the scene. Now, every single round of every PGA tournament is on TV somewhere. And as I've said in previous posts, Tiger made golf cool for the younger players out there. It wasn't that long ago that playing golf in high school was strictly a geek activity. Now, teams have to actually cut players because the turnout is so high.
posted by donnnnychris at 02:34 AM on June 06
I looked down the thread and I'm pretty sure I didn't see an athlete who should be on any list of most significant sporting figures in the 20th century (my apologies if someone did bring her up). Billie Jean King I have a six-year-old daughter and the only reason she has the opportunity in a few years to play any kind of sport competitively is because of King's influence on gender equality in sports in the early 70s. I interviewed a lady one time for a newspaper article on Title IX and her quote when I asked what it was like for girls before the legislation was passed was, "we basically played for punch and cookies, that's it." I can't see any other definition of a significant athlete. She's up there with Robinson and Ali in terms of social change in my opinion.
posted by donnnnychris at 01:54 AM on June 05
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