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Professional Athletes, Team Sports


The Olympic Games are generally credited as being the first instance of organized sports. Historians believe that they actually began as early as two centuries before the first written mention of them in 776 B.C. Rome's conquest of ancient Greece didn't bring the fabled games to a halt, but instead, the Romans added their own brand of sport to the list, including chariot-racing and gladiator battles. They built special arenas in which to stage these events, from the amphitheater to the renowned Colosseum in Rome. In 394 A.D., however, the Olympic Games were abolished and weren't revived until 1896.

In the interim, popular support for organized sports developed slowly. Tennis rose to popularity in France in the 1400s; historical records indicate that a track-and-field competition was held in England in 1510; Mary, Queen of Scots, loved to play golf and popularized the sport during her reign from 1542 to 1567; Her son, James I of England, lifted a ban on football (now known to Americans as soccer); and the first sweepstakes in horse racing was introduced in England in 1714.

The difference in the nature of sports before and after the 19th century largely has to do with organization. Prior to the 19th century, most sports were not officially organized; there were no official rules, competitions, or standards of play. During the 19th century, however, many sports underwent a transition from invented pastime to official sport. Rules governing play, the field of play, and competitions were agreed upon. The first modern track-and-field meet, for example, was held in England in 1825. Meanwhile, in the United States, the English game of rugby evolved into American football. The first game was played between Rutgers and Princeton in 1869.

Team sports, in contrast with individual sports, take advantage of the fact that more than one person is allowed to play by assigning different roles to different players. Each team member usually has a specific task, one at which he or she excels.

Baseball, basketball, golf, tennis, and then boxing began to attract large crowds of people in the early 20th century. As these sports and others grew in popularity, governing bodies and organizations were created to oversee the fair play of each sport. Gradually, coverage of sporting events on radio and in newspapers began to grow until sports quite literally became the national pastime for Americans. Sports stars became as renowned as movie stars or politicians, sometimes even more so.

Today, the number of professional team sports is growing, but the numbers still favor male athletes. Only a few professional teams exist for female athletes, none of which are currently promoted or supported by the media and public to the degree that are male teams. The performance of women athletes in the 1996 Olympic Games held in Atlanta, Georgia, such as the women's softball team, and the creation of a women's professional basketball league, the Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA) in the late-1990s, may indicate the tide is turning.

In early 2020, the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak brought the entertainment industry, including all kinds of sports, to a standstill for several months. In the United States, team sports prepared to resume competition midway through the year. For example, a 60-game Major League Baseball season was slated to commence in late July. However, it appeared that changes needed to ensure public safety (including the absence of huge stadium crowds) would result in a very different experience for both players and fans. While the pandemic's long-term impact on team sports competition remained to be seen, this unprecedented development had made an indelible mark on the history of sports at all levels.