Independence Day commemorates something far more important than any sport, but it’s still worth noting how that historic event has impacted sports.
First, if the Continental Congress had not adopted the Declaration of Independence on this day 235 years ago, our national pastime might be something called “cricket” instead of baseball, the most American of all sports.
A doubleheader might take more than a week to play, which is almost as long as a typical Red Sox-Yankees game. Spectators enjoying the national pastime wouldn’t have a brat and a beer, but would instead take a proper tea, perhaps several.
If the 13 colonies had not declared — then successfully fought for — independence, we might be sitting around waiting to see how long the soccer lockout was going to drag on. Or we might be hoping it would continue indefinitely, depending on your feelings toward soccer.
Can you imagine fretting over whether soccer season would start on time and whether you would be able to form your annual Champions League fantasy team?
But it’s not just the independence from Great Britain that’s worth remembering. It’s also the spirit of independence that has been instilled in individuals who have impacted the sports world.
It was that spirit that led guys named Curt Flood, Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally to challenge Major League Baseball’s reserve clause in the 1970s. Eventually that clause was struck down and free agency was born, allowing professional athletes to earn the right to choose their employer in a free-market setting. How American is that?
That same spirit led a group of entrepreneurs to form the American Basketball Association and challenge the established National Basketball Association. The upstart ABA even used a red, white and blue basketball and eventually infused the older league with the 3-point shot and a more entertaining brand of basketball after the leagues merged.
That same spirit led another group of entrepreneurs to form the American Football League and challenge the established National Football League. Ultimately those two leagues merged, creating the uniquely American Super Bowl, one of the most widely celebrated annual events in the U.S. That same spirit led to the launch of an upstart network known as Entertainment and Sports Programming Network (ESPN) to challenge the commercial networks’ stale approach to covering sports and expand the horizon of sports on TV.
And so on Independence Day we are able to commemorate freedom by tuning into that network’s coverage from Coney Island as gastrointestinal freaks inhale hot dogs faster than Ashton Kutcher can tweet. (By the way, this year’s contest has a local, uh, flavor as Adrian Morgan of Baton Rouge qualified for it.)
Additionally, this year’s contest has embraced one of Thomas Jefferson’s self-evident truths — that all men (and, presumably, all women) are created equal — and added a hot dog-eating contest for women.
U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!