RSS
5 times the U.S. government interfered in the world of sports
The results are about as mixed as you would expect
 
Better luck next year, Russia.
Better luck next year, Russia. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

The cutthroat sport of shuffleboard took over St. Petersburg, Fla., this week for the 32nd International Shuffleboard Association World Championships.

Notably absent? The Russians, proving that Americans weren't the only ones affected by the government shutdown. A closed American embassy meant no processed visas, which meant no gold medals for the countrymen credited — along with hipsters, in a pretty weird example of cross-cultural cooperation — with "driving the new era of competitive shuffleboard," according to Deadspin.

This is not the first time that the U.S. government — either by inaction or action — has tipped the playing field. At both the state and federal levels, there are plenty of instances in which politicians have decided to get in the game. Here, five that stand out:

1. Theodore Roosevelt saves football


(Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

President Roosevelt's savvy foreign relations skills had already kicked off construction of the Panama Canal in 1903, so perhaps he was looking for a more America-centric accomplishment on which to hang his presidential hat.

Or maybe Teddy just liked football. Either way, the nation's 26th president stepped in to combat a drive by Harvard's president, Charles W. Eliot, to abolish the game, gathering a contingent of college football's most influential men in 1905 to convince them that football was worth saving.

It should be noted that the 1905 version of football bears little resemblance to the sport you now watch on the weekends. The National Football League didn't exist yet, and the college game was characterized by mass formations, gang tackling, and rules regarded more as suggestions to be ignored.

Roosevelt's meetings led to a crackdown on the violence front (today's head-injury debate notwithstanding) and an extension of yards needed for a first down, from five to 10. And — hello, NFL! — Roosevelt's meetings also put the forward pass in the rule book. 'Nuff said.

2. No Olympics for you!


(Wally McNamee/CORBIS)

In protest of the Soviet Union's occupation of Afghanistan, President Jimmy Carter decided to keep America's athletes home from the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow.

"As citizens, it is an easy decision to make — support the president," one benched American said. "As athletes, it is a difficult decision."

It was also a decision that did little to sway the Soviet Union, which remained in Afghanistan for nearly another decade.

3. The feds lay down the law


(Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Major League Baseball's league-wide drug-testing began in 2003 (although steroids had been prohibited since 1991). It ushered in a dark time for the sport, with names like Bonds, McGwire, and Sosa losing much of their on-field luster due to behind-closed-doors boosting.

It also ushered in the feds.

The Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO) investigation turned up tons of big names, and some of those were subpoenaed to testify on whether they had used performance-enhancing drugs provided by the company. Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi, Gary Sheffield, and others made the list, with Bonds and Roger Clemens eventually being indicted by a grand jury on charges of perjury (Clemens was re-tried and found not guilty in 2012).

4. Title IX blues


(AP Photo/Douglas Healey)

Ah, Title IX. Everyone agrees that the 1972 law had a major impact on women's sports and women's equality in general, opening up sports that were long the exclusive precincts of men.

But who would have thought that more than 40 years after its inception, the law would be pitting female athletes against each other?

The U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in 2012 ruled that competitive cheerleading was not a sport, preventing Quinnipiac University from using the cheerleading squad to complete gender-equality requirements. The case had originally been brought by the school's volleyball coach, who was miffed that the volleyball program had been canceled in favor of cheerleading.

5. Gamers Unite


(Facebook/League of Legends)

Are you really good at video games, specifically League of Legends? Do you live somewhere other than the United States?

Good news: You might be eligible for an "Internationally Recognized Athlete" visa — or a "p-1A" — to come to the U.S. for up to five years as a professional athlete.

Seriously, here's how Riot Games spokesperson Chris Kramer explained it:

In its ongoing efforts to help elevate e-sports, Riot Games has recently worked with the U.S. federal government to expand the official definition of athletes to include e-sports competitors, officially recognizing e-sports as professional athletes for visa applications. Riot has always maintained that e-sports competitors operate with the same level of training and specialization as athletes, and the company was very pleased that the government agreed. [TechNewsWorld]

 
Sarah Eberspacher is an associate editor at TheWeek.com. She has previously worked as a sports reporter at The Livingston County Daily Press & Argus and The Arizona Republic. She graduated from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.

THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER

Subscribe to the Week