NFL nabs New England Patriots in “Spygate” scandal

On September 9, 2007, the NFL catches the New England Patriots illegally videotaping coaching signals of the New York Jets from an unauthorized location in a Week 1 game in East Rutherford, N.J.—a scandal the media soon dubs “Spygate.” 

READ MORE: 8 Scandals That Rocked the NFL

Just before halftime of the Patriots’ 38-14 Patriots win, a 26-year-old New England video assistant named Matt Estrella was caught capturing hand signals from New York’s defensive assistants on video. The Jets’ second-year head coach, Eric Mangini, previously was an assistant for New England under head coach Bill Belichick.

“Several teams have suspected the Patriots of stealing signs,” wrote the New York Daily News. “So did the Jets, thanks to Mangini.”

The Patriots admitted wrongdoing later in the week. After an investigation, NFL  commissioner Roger Goodell fined Belichick $500,000 (the NFL maximum) and the team $250,000. The Patriots also had to forfeit their first-round pick in the 2008 draft.

The NFL destroyed the “Spygate” game tape, a decision that remains controversial.

By the late 2000s, the Patriots had developed into one of the NFL’s flagship franchises, winning three Super Bowls between 2002 and 2005. In 2007, New England became the only team to finish a regular season 16-0. 

But that season ended on a sour note for New England. In one of the bigger upsets in professional sports history, the New York Giants beat the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII, 17-14, ending their bid for a perfect season. 

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Althea Gibson becomes first African American to win U.S. Open tennis title

On September 8, 1957, 30-year-old Althea Gibson becomes the first African American to win the U.S. Open, beating Louise Brough, 6-3, 6-2. Afterward, vice president Richard Nixon presents her with the championship trophy. “Now I have been doubly honored,” Gibson says. “I won Wimbledon before Queen Elizabeth II and now I have won here before our vice president.”

On July 6, 1957, became the first Black woman to win Wimbledon, beating Darlene Hard. In 1956, she won her first Grand Slam singles championship, beating Angela Mortimer to become the first Black woman to win the French Open or any other Grand Slam tournament.

READ MORE: The life of Althea Gibson

An excellent all-around athlete, Gibson was New York’s women’s table tennis champion as a 12-year-old. In her late 20s, she developed into one of the world’s best female tennis players. 

Because there was no prize money in the U.S. Open (then called the “U.S. National Championships”) before 1968, Gibson was still an amateur. So, after her historic victory, she talked about turning pro in another profession.

“I’ve always wanted to sing,” Gibson told a wire service. “You’ve got to make a living somehow. I’ve had contract offers from several record companies but haven’t had time to follow them up.” Gibson eventually became a recording artist, releasing an album and performing on the The Ed Sullivan Show in 1959.

READ MORE: Trailblazing Black women in sports

Gibson retired from tennis in 1958, but she wasn’t done competing. She became a professional golfer, ranking as highly as 27th on the pro tour.

On September 28, 2003, Gibson died of complications from respiratory and bladder infections. In 2019, she was honored with a statue outside Arthur Ashe Stadium at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, home of the U.S. Open. 

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MLB cancels playoffs, World Series

With players on strike since mid-August, Major League Baseball on September 14, 1995, cancels its playoffs and World Series. This marks the first time since 1904 that a season will end without the crowning a champion. It also prematurely ends one of the sport’s most exciting seasons in recent memory.

There were numerous reasons for the 1994 MLB strike, which lasted until April 2, 1995, but the overwhelming themes were money and mistrust. MLB owners wanted a cap on players’ salaries and the implementation of local broadcast revenue sharing. The MLB Players Association refused.

The strike ended what should have been an exciting last few months of the season. The Montreal Expos (74-40) and New York Yankees (70-43) appeared to be on a collision course for the World Series. San Francisco Giants slugger Matt Williams’ (43 home runs) and Seattle Mariners star Ken Griffey Jr. (40 HRs) had chances to break Roger Maris’ then-season record for home runs (61, set in 1961). San Diego Padres star Tony Gwynn, who had a .394 batting average, missed a chance to become the first player since Ted Williams in 1941 to bat .400 or higher. 

READ MORE: The epic battle to beat Babe Ruth’s season HR record

Years afterward, the impact of the 1994 strike and cancelled World Series cut deeply with many former players. In 2014, former Oakland A’s star pitcher Dave Stewart told USA TODAY that he “never felt the same way about baseball again.”

Noted Hall of Fame relief pitcher Rich “Goose” Gossage in an interview with USA Today: “Most of these guys in the big leagues today, they don’t have any freakin’ clue on how they’re being paid all of this money. Not one clue. They have no idea the blood, sweat and tears we went through.”

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Juan Marichal hits catcher with bat, instigating epic MLB brawl

At San Francisco’s Candlestick Park on August 22, 1965, Giants pitcher Juan Marichal steps up to the plate to lead off the home half of the third inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers. After the second pitch, a ball low and away, catcher John Roseboro returns the ball to pitcher Sandy Koufax, but he offends Marichal by throwing it close to his head. Marichal’s reaction is unprecedented—he attacks Roseboro, hitting him in the head with his bat and setting off an epic, 14-minute brawl.

Years later, Roseboro admitted he intentionally threw close to Marichal’s head in retaliation for Marichal “brushing back” Dodgers hitters. This may have been a means of sending a warning while keeping ace Koufax, who did not like to throw at hitters, out of trouble. The teams were locked in a tight race for the National League pennant, and, as Leonard Koppett wrote the next day in the New York Times: “Fights that erupt under pennant pressure are not unusual, but they are always fist fights.” Indeed, home plate umpire Shag Crawford said after the game that he would not have ejected Marichal “if he had fought with his fists.” Using a bat in a brawl, however, was unheard of. In an apology issued the next day, Marichal claimed he used his bat because he was worried Roseboro would hit him with his catcher’s mask.

Marichal hit Roseboro at least twice, drawing blood, although the catcher’s wounds were superficial. Koufax rushed to try to break up the fight, and on-deck hitter Tito Fuentes also joined the fray, bat in hand. Players from both benches streamed onto the field, some fighting and others trying to calm things. In the chaos, umpire Crawford tackled Marichal, and Giants star Willie Mays restrained Roseboro and tended to the cuts on his head.

When the brawl was over, multiple players on both sides and the umpire had suffered injuries. Marichal, who was ejected from the game, was suspended eight games and fined $1,750. Asked to comment on Marichal’s actions, Dodgers manager Walt Alston told reporters, “I don’t think you want the comment I would give you about that character.”

Improbably, Roseboro and Marichal developed a friendship after reconnecting at an old-timers’ game. Roseboro subsequently visited Marichal in his native Dominican Republic and lobbied for Marichal to be elected to the Hall of Fame. Marichal, who won 243 games during his career, was inducted into the Hall in 1983. When Roseboro died in 2002, Marichal—whose bat-wielding attack was called “arguably the ugliest moment in MLB history” by ESPN—was a pallbearer at his funeral. 

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Pittsburgh Pirates field MLB’s first all-Black lineup

On September 1, 1971, the Pittsburgh Pirates field the first all-Black lineup in Major League Baseball history in the team’s 10-7 win over the Philadelphia Phillies. The history-making event receives zero coverage in Pittsburgh two major newspapers—both were on strike—and is mentioned only briefly during the team’s radio broadcast. Only 11,278 attend the game in Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers Stadium.

“I don’t think we even realized it until the second inning,” broadcaster Nellie King told the Pittsburgh Press in 1986 about the all-Black lineup. In its game coverage, United Press International highlighted the milestone, which came 24 years after Jackie Robinson broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

“When it comes to making out the lineup, I’m colorblind, and the athletes know it,” Pirates manager Danny Murtaugh said, according to UPI. “…The best men in our organization are the ones who are here. And the ones who are here all play, depending on when the circumstances present themselves.”

READ MORE: Jackie Robinson’s Battles For Equality On, Off Baseball Field

Dock Ellis was the starting pitcher for Pittsburgh, throwing to catcher Manny Sanguillen. At first base was Al “Scoop” Oliver. Rookie Rennie Stennett played second base, a position usually occupied by Dave Cash, who played third. Light-hitting Jackie Hernandez played shortstop while Gene Clines and future Hall of Famers Willie Stargell and Roberto Clemente played in the outfield. Sanguillen, Clemente, Stennett and Hernandez were Latino.

“We really had no idea that history was being made,” Oliver told MLB.com in 2011.

The lineup was only together for a little more than an inning. The Phillies knocked Ellis from the game with one out in the second inning. He was replaced by Bob Moose, a white pitcher.

A little more than a month later, the Pirates made history again by beating the Baltimore Orioles to win the World Series in seven games. Six of the eight position players in MLB’s first all-Black lineup also started that series-clinching game in Baltimore. 

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Harlem Globetrotters’ 8,829-game winning streak snapped

On September 12, 1995, in Vienna, Austria, the Harlem Globetrotters tip off the third game of an 11-game exhibition series in Europe against a team of retired basketball stars led by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, aptly named “Kareem’s All-Stars.” Unlike the previous 8,829 games, the Globetrotters lose, 91-85—the team’s first loss since 1971. The Globetrotters’ games are usually scripted, but this game is not.  

Despite being 48 years old, Abdul-Jabbar put the team on his back, scoring 34 points. Bo Kimble, a former college standout and New York Knick, scored 13 points and grabbed eight rebounds. Abdul-Jabbar and Kimble were aided by a handful of other old, former NBA standouts such as Artis Gilmore, Jo-Jo White, Nate “Tiny” Archibald and, the youngest player on the team, 40-year-old Cedric “Cornbread” Maxwell.

The victory had additional significance for Abdul-Jabbar, who was no stranger to the Globetrotters. In 1969, the Globetrotters—known primarily for their on-court antics—reportedly offered him a $1 million contract to play with them after his historic collegiate career at UCLA. Abdul-Jabbar turned the deal down and went onto become the No. 1 pick of the 1969 NBA Draft by the Milwaukee Bucks. 

After the win, Abdul-Jabbar complimented the Globetrotters, saying they were “a very good basketball team” and that “they impressed our team with their poise in this loss.”

Meanwhile, the Globetrotters, who had won the first two games of the 11-game series in Switzerland and Germany, took the loss fairly hard. “The guys are really upset …,”  Reggie “Regulator” Phillips told the media. “After being part of the team for over 300 straight wins, it is a strange feeling to lose a game.” The Globetrotters defeated the All-Stars in their next “game.”

READ MORE: 10 things you may not know about the Harlem Globetrotters

At the end of this somewhat strange series featuring basketball entertainers and NBA has-beens, Maxwell summed up the experience humorously, telling the New York Times: “You look at us after these games, we are on Tylenol, Excedrin, Advil—all kinds of painkillers, anti-inflammatories. We’re one big pharmaceutical shop. If they do this next year, they ought to look at one of those drugs companies sponsoring it. They can call it the Kareem-Harlem Globetrotters Pain Tour.”

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Teen tennis star Navratilova seeks political asylum in U.S.

On September 6, 1975, 18-year-old rising tennis star Martina Navratilova—who would  become one of the greatest players of all time—asks for political asylum in the United States after defecting from communist Czechoslovakia.

Navratilova flourished on the court between May and September 1975, finishing runner-up in the Australian and French Open. At the U.S. Open, Navratilova reached the semifinals before falling to Chris Evert, who would become her chief rival. Then she announced plans to defect.

“Pandemonium reigned around her as cameras clicked and reporters shouted questions,” Steve Tignor of Tennis.com wrote in 2015. “But the teenager remained as calm and self-assured as could be expected, considering what she had just done.”

Like many of her countrymen, Navratilova chafed under communist rule. “She’s from a Communist country,” an Immigration and Naturalization Service spokesman told the New York Times in 1975. “If she wants to stay here, she’ll be permitted to stay.”

Later, Navratilova said she “had no idea what a splash” her defection would cause.

“I’ll never get it off my back,” she told the New York Times. “It’ll always be there. Always. I think 20 years from now they’ll still ask, ‘Why did you do it?”’

Navratilova, who was stripped of her Czechoslovakian citizenship, became a U.S. citizen in 1981. Her Czech citizenship was later restored. Navratilova—one of the first openly gay athletes—was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2000.

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Transgender athlete Renée Richards barred from U.S. Open

On August 27, 1976, the United States Tennis Association bars transgender athlete Renée Richards from competing in the U.S. Open as a woman, stating she must pass a chromosomal test. Richards fails the test, sues the USTA and wins the right a year later to compete via a New York Supreme Court ruling.

Richards was born Richard Raskind in 1934. In high school, Raskind was a four-sport athlete primarily focused on tennis. After high school, Raskind moved on to Yale, where she captained the men’s tennis team.

In 1959, Raskind graduated from the University of Rochester Medical Center, specializing in ophthalmology. An ophthalmologist first, Raskind also played professional tennis, making the U.S. Open semifinals in 1972.

But Raskind fought an inner turmoil. “I had a very good and a very full life as Richard. But I had this other side of me which kept emerging,” Richards told the BBC in 2015.

In 1975, Richards underwent a gender affirming surgery. Richards still wanted to play tennis, but the sport wasn’t receptive. The court ruling made the USTA’s objections moot.

“When an individual such as plaintiff, a successful physician, a husband and father, finds it necessary for his own mental sanity to undergo a sex reassignment,” New York Supreme Court Judge Alfred Ascione wrote, “the unfounded fears and misconceptions of defendants must give way to the overwhelming medical evidence that this person is now female.”

In 1981, Richards retired from tennis at age 47. 

Read more about the LGBT movement in America here

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First Little League World Series champion crowned

On August 23, 1947, the first Little League World Series championship game—the culmination of a three-day tournament in Williamsport, Pa.—features teams from Pennsylvania. Before roughly 2,500 fans, Maynard, a team from Williamsport, defeats Lock Haven, 16-7, to win the title at Original Field. Although it is called the “World Series,” 11 of the 12 teams in the tournament are from Pennsylvania; the outlier is a team from Atlantic City, N.J..

One of Maynard’s stars was outfielder Jack Losch, who became a standout halfback at the University of Miami. Losch was the eighth overall selection in the 1956 NFL draft and played a season for the pre-Vince Lombardi Green Bay Packers before joining the U.S. Air Force. After Losch died in 2004, Little League Baseball named the World Series Team Sportsmanship Award in his honor.

Maynard’s run total in the six-inning championship game stood as a record for 40 years. When reflecting on that game for Sports Illustrated in 1997, Charlie Scudder, who co-managed the Marynard team with Harry Berry, said, “I picked 14 kids who could hit.”

Nearly the entire Maynard team went on to college, most of them the first in their families to do so, Sports Illustrated reported in 1997. Added the magazine: “…all [the players] seemed to grow from that hot, sweaty August day.”

“After winning the semifinal, we went across the street to Bowman Field, where the Williamsport minor league team played,” Maynard outfielder Ed Jones told Sports Illustrated. “We were able to have chocolate milk and peanut butter sandwiches in the clubhouse. I said it couldn’t get any better than this.”

Within 15 years, the Little League World Series featured teams from Canada, Mexico, Europe and Asia. The first non-U.S. team to win the title was a team from Mexico in 1957. The World Series has become a summer staple on national TV.

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17-year-old becomes youngest to hit MLB home run

On August 20, 1945, 11 days after the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, Japan, Brooklyn Dodgers utility player Tommy Brown homers to drive in his team’s only run in an 11-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates. It seems insignificant, aside from the fact that, at 17 years old, Brown remains the youngest player to homer in a Major League Baseball game, a feat unlikely to be duplicated.

Born in the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn on December 6, 1927, Brown made his debut with the Dodgers in 1944 when he was 16. During World War II, millions of men served overseas—future Hall of Famers Ted Williams and Yogi Berra were among them—so many teens got their shot in the big leagues. Fifteen-year-old Joe Nuxhall pitched 2/3 of an inning for the Cincinnati Reds in the summer of 1944.

On August 3, 1944, Brown was called up from Newport News (Va.) Builders of the Class B Piedmont League to make his MLB debut. The Dodgers had tried Bobby Bragan at shortstop but were looking for someone more mobile. Dodgers manager Leo Durocher told Brown that day he would play both games of a doubleheader against the Chicago Cubs. Brown, according to a bio on the Society of American Baseball Research web site, advised his manager that he had ridden the train all night,  “but Leo responded that he didn’t care.”

Brown got two hits in eight at-bats as the Cubs beat the Dodgers in both games, 6-2 and 7-1. Brown wound up playing 46 games for the Dodgers in 1944, hitting .164 without a homer.

After starting 1945 in the minor leaguies, Brown returned to the Dodgers in July, becoming the team’s No. 1 shortstop for the remainder of the season. He hit his first MLB home run against Pittsburgh’s Preacher Roe, who won 127 games in the big leagues. Five days later, Browne hit the second home run of his career, against the New York Giants’ Adrian Zabala. He finished the season with a .245 batting average.

Brown played seven more seasons in the big leagues, spending time with the Philadelphia Phillies and Cubs after leaving Brooklyn. He never became anything more than a part-time player, but his distinction of youngest person to homer in the majors endures. 

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