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The History of Sports in the United States

author image Tom Stewart
Tom Stewart started writing radio news, sports and entertainment scripts for live broadcast in 1992 and has worked as a producer, writer and on-air personality at several radio stations in Southern New England, including WPRO, WQSX and WKCD. He has extensive knowledge of news, sports and entertainment. Stewart studied mass communications and marketing at Rhode Island College.
The History of Sports in the United States
Baseball on a foul line Photo Credit Weston_Miller/iStock/Getty Images

Sports have been a big part of American culture for many years. Professional sports like baseball, basketball, football, and hockey have become massive industries and the economic center of many cities. Sports are also a big part of growing up in this country since these sports and others are prominent in youth leagues, high schools and colleges. The popularity of sports is a big part of the history of the United States.


Baseball is considered America's national pastime. Major league baseball is a central part of American sports and attracts more fans and sells more tickets than any other professional sport in the world. It is believed to have been developed based on sports like rounders and cricket. For many years most fans believed that Abner Doubleday created the first set of baseball rules, but others suggest the first official set of rules was created by Alexander Cartwright of the New York Knickerbockers. The Cincinnati Red Stockings were the first official professional baseball team, and soon there were several different leagues. The American and National Leagues are the major leagues today. There are also hundreds of minor and independent leagues. In the 1920's, a more precise set of rules was created which made the sport more organized and less physical. Until 1946, African-American players were not allowed in the major leagues, but today the sport is played by athletes of different ethnicities from countries around the world.


The sport of basketball was invented by Dr. James Naismith, a Canadian-born physical education instructor at the YMCA in Springfield, Massachusetts, in 1891. While teaching at the YMCA, Naismith wanted to give his students something active to do while inside on a rainy day. After many ideas, he eventually came up with the sport by hanging a peach basket from the elevated running track, 10 feet above the gymnasium floor. The game evolved over the years from Naismith's original rules. Many more rules and new equipment helped to perfect the game. Eventually professional teams and leagues were developed. The sport also became quite popular on playgrounds, especially in thickly settled urban areas. Today, the National Basketball Association, or NBA, is one of the most popular sport leagues in the world.


In the 1870s rugby was becoming a favorite sport played by college athletes in the United States. In 1876, Walter Camp developed a new sport based on rugby and called it football. In the 1890s the sport gained interest and started to become a professional sport. The Allegheny Athletic Association was the first completely professional team and played a short two-game season against the Pittsburgh Athletic Club. In 1902, baseball's Philadelphia Athletics and Philadelphia Phillies formed professional football teams, along with the Pittsburgh Stars, and formed the first professional football league, the National Football League. Through the years the rules and scoring of the sport changed several times. The American Football League, or AFL, was also formed in 1960 as an alternative league considered by some to be inferior to the NFL. But in 1970 the two merged with the AFL teams becoming the American Football Conference, or AFC, and the NFL teams becoming the National Football Conference, or NFC, The top team from each conference would compete yearly in the Super Bowl for the NFL championship. Today the NFL, is one of the most popular sports leagues in the world, and the Super Bowl is one of television's most watched events.


The sport of hockey, considered by many to have been invented in Canada after a game called "shinny," has history dating back to the late 1800s. A similar sport, originally called "ice polo," was already being played on American college ice rinks. Ice hockey started to become more popular, and professional leagues started popping up in the United States, the first being the International Professional Hockey League with teams from Pennsylvania and Michigan. In 1910, the National Hockey League, or NHL, was created in Canada. It was called the National Hockey Association until 1917, and later expanded to include American teams in 1924.

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