American sports have faced many challenges in the past 50 years. The fact that sports in the USA are highly regarded and produce many elite athletes undoubtedly puts some strain on the system of professional and even amateur sports. Strict regulations must be adhered to, codes of conduct are established and governing bodies all oversee sports but there is always a margin of inaccuracy which allows way for problems to arise.
Arguably the largest problem currently in the USA is deviance in sport, even though many countries also have issues with deviance, the USA may have more pressure on their athletes owing to their infamous nature of producing the elite. Expectancy of athletes has risen to such great levels that many athletes feel that to reach the pinnacle of their physical condition and sporting proficiency they have to turn to drugs. Even in the NCAA, college athletes are now being tested1 to ensure that no participant has an artificially induced advantage.
Doping and other forms of unfair advantage have been under scrutiny of the IOC since its joining of the IAAF in 1967. The International Association of Athletics Federations was the first international governing body of sport to take the situation seriously. In 1928 they banned participants from doping, but with little in the way of testing available they had to rely on the word of the athlete that they were clean. As technological advancements improved, there have been even greater rigorous processes in determining whether an athlete has been illegally improving their performance with banned substances or not.
2003 saw many recalled medals for USA athletes, Kelli White (Sprinter), Sandra Glover (Hurdles), Calvin Harrison (400 metre), Chris Phillips (Hurdles), Chryste Gaines (100 metre relay), Regina Jacobs (1,500 metre), Kevin Toth (shot putt), John McEwan (Hammer Throw) amongst others were all disgraced USA athletes2. It wasn’t restricted to Olympic activities either; even Americas most popular sport is faced with huge drug problems. Four members of the 2003 Super Bowl Oakland Raiders football team all tested positive for designer steroid THG.
Other issues relevant in sports in the USA include that of violence. Violence is seen as a key ingredient in the enjoyment of USA sporting activities, but when it is seen in a bad light on US officials and their organisations it is often disguised and people pretend nothing ever happened. Most people in the USA will refer to violence in sport as such of that in Ice Hockey where a fight is seen as entertainment, but not violence of sports fans or enthusiasts where appalling activities such as riots, fights, knifings and other activities are never reported. One recorded incident was in 1984 where violence erupted outside of Tiger Stadium in Detroit after the Detroit Tigers defeated the San Diego Padres in the World Series. A well known photo from the riot shows a Tigers fan holding a World Series pennant in front of an overturned burning Detroit Police car.3
There have also been a few rare, but tarnishing, incidents where fans and players have collectively rioted and disagreements have sparked. These are often notorious and reported in the press. The most recent would have been the Pacers-Pistons brawl in the NBA in 2004. The brawl began with 45.9 seconds remaining in the game, with the Pacers leading 97-82. Piston forward Ben Wallace drove to the basket and was about to put up a layup when Pacer forward Ron Artest fouled him. Upset at being fouled hard when the game’s outcome had effectively been decided, Wallace responded by shoving Artest. Several players from both teams joined the fray. Soon it escalated with beer and coke being thrown from the stands onto the affected players, and some players ran into the stands and started punching the fans. Commentator on the game and former NBA player Bill Walton said ‘This is a low moment in NBA history…certainly no winners in this circumstance at all’.
Another notable issue also related to violence is that of racism. In US sports, racism has been seen has a huge barrier to professionalism. However, in the modern days this is much less of a problem than seen years ago, but can still be seen as relevant. One notable overcome of racism is the career of American golfer, Tiger Woods. In 1961, black golfers were not allowed on the PGA tour and his first golf club excluded him on the grounds of race. This did not deter him, and he went on to become the first black golfer to win the masters in 1997 and at 21 also the youngest golfer to set a record for the highest scoring margin. He went on to a hugely successful career; Woods was the highest paid professional athlete in 2006, having earned an estimated $100 million from winnings and endorsements.