March 2007 Issue
Going the Distance
The Ohio Historical Society hosts memorable moments in sports.
There are moments in sports that go beyond who won and who lost.
They are the contests that transcend the outcome, leaving an indelible impact on life, culture and history. Through April 22, the Ohio Historical Society showcases these unforgettable events in "Sports: Breaking Records, Breaking Barriers," a traveling exhibition from the Smithsonian Institution.
The exhibit, which spotlights 35 athletes and their performances in 17 sports, focuses on far more than the results of competition. After all, it's not the final score that visitors think of when viewing the tennis dress that Billie Jean King wore when she played Bobby Riggs in 1973's famous "Battle of the Sexes," one of the exhibit's highlights. Rather, it's what that match-up represented for women.
"The exhibition goes beyond sports, using it to look at bigger issues in American history - issues like politics, race, women's rights, technology, the abilities of the handicapped," says Ellen Roney Hughes, exhibit curator and cultural historian at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.
The traveling display features 40 items from the 10,000 contained at the Smithsonian.
"I could have made it twice the size that it is," says Hughes, a sports fan all her life. "The items are really among the finest artifacts we have."
She points with pride to the robe worn by Muhammad Ali when he regained the heavyweight boxing title by beating George Foreman in 1974 in Zaire. She wrote to Ali asking for a memento from that fight, ultimately negotiating with the boxer's representatives for several years.
"One day, Ali just showed up at the Smithsonian with the robe in hand," she recalls. "We were electrified by his presence."
Hughes had the additional good fortune of acquiring a baseball autographed by Babe Ruth and 26 other members of the 1926 New York Yankees, The ball had been in the possession of a family since the 1930s; they decided they wanted to give it to the Smithsonian so the entire country could have it.
"That," says Hughes, "is the kind of thing I love to hear."
Accompanying the Smithsonian exhibit are 11 sports-related objects with a Buckeye connection, on loan from The Ohio State University. They include the sweater and belt worn by track star Jesse Owens for the official ceremonies at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, and Jack Nicklaus' 1961 National Amateur Golf Championship trophy.
The thrill of victory is everywhere. Jerseys once worn by high achievers are a focal point, including Michael Jordan's basketball uniform from the 1996-97 season playoffs; Bill Baker's hockey jersey that he wore when the 1980 United States Olympic team won the gold medal by defeating the seemingly unstoppable Soviet Union squad; and the Milwaukee Brewers uniform that all-time home run king Hank Aaron wore in the final two seasons of his career. The goggles donned in 1926 by Gertrude Ederle, the first woman to swim the English Channel, also have their place.
The exhibit acknowledges the technological breakthroughs and people behind them who enhanced performance and participation in sports. Artifacts not as famous, yet still holding historical significance, include a roller skate developed by James Plimpton in 1863, which permitted easier steering and control; and a tennis wheelchair developed by Marilyn Hamilton, a paraplegic who won the U.S. Women's Open Wheelchair Tennis Tournament twice.
The exhibit, says Hughes, reminds visitors of all issues athletes encounter and the effect their personal victories - both on and off the field - exert on the nation's consciousness.
"It will appeal to a wide range of people, not just those interested in sports," she promises.
|Ohio Historical Society
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