Offside: Soccer and American Exceptionalism

By Andrei S. Markovits; Steven L. Hellerman | Go to book overview

Four
The Formation and Rearrangement of the
American Sport Space in the Second Half of the
Twentieth Century

ABOVE ALL other factors, there are four key developments that defined and shaped the American cultural sport space in the second half of the twentieth century: modern and mature organizational stability, racial integration, geographic and franchise expansion, and, most important, the ubiquitous presence and effect of television. The first development noted here—the maturity of modern sports leagues in terms of their political economy—meant that the professional venues of the Big Three and OneHalf had all achieved a level of stability that ensured their permanent existence and modern institutionalization. 1 Major League Baseball had attained this level of economic and institutional maturity by 1903, when its organizational framework became set; no franchise in either the National or American League has since ceased to exist (though some might relocate). Since at least the early 1950s, the same could be said of the teams in the NFL, NBA, and NHL; the only exceptions are teams in leagues that would seek to challenge the hegemony of the established entities in their respective sports. One of these challengers would prove immensely successful: In the 1960s, the American Football League ensured the survival and permanence of all its franchises by successfully forcing a merger with the NFL. Other challengers, such as the All-American Football Conference, the American Basketball Association, and the World Hockey League, attained some success as a few of the teams from these now defunct enterprises were incorporated into their more established rivals. Two challengers to the NFL in the 1970s and 1980s, the World Football League and the United States Football League, would completely fail and all their teams vanish. It goes without saying that no soccer league in the United States had ever attained this level of maturity and stability until, apparently (as of mid 2000), the advent of Major League Soccer.

The breakdown of “color lines” in the professional Big Three began immediately after World War II, a process essentially complete—at least on the playing fields and in the locker rooms—by the mid-1960s. (The NHL has been open to players of all races since at least that time, but there have been only a few black professional hockey players.) The last

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