What You Didn’t Know You Didn’t Know About Sports

Story By: Niki Lorentzen

Do you think you know all there is to know about sports? If you said yes, you might find out you’re wrong.

There is so much sports history out there, and so many interesting facts that have been lost in the shuffle. Here are a few that Chapman Professor Vanessa Gunther has come up with for her class, History of America Through Sports. So brush up on your history and get out a notebook, because maybe you never knew these facts about sports before.

Why does America call it soccer, but the rest of the world calls it football?

You may have at some point in your life, like everyone else in America, wondered why Americans insist on the "soccer" name.  

Dating back almost 200 years, the term “soccer” actually was slang for the term “association football”. The term “association football” was used to refer to what would become today's soccer. It wasn’t called simply “football" because it was used to distinguish between another sport called “rugby football, ”which would later become today’s rugby, and a game called “gridiron”, which would become today’s American football.

Both games came from the same basic concept of getting a ball into a goal. The different variations of the game grew with time, and once the two sports came across the Atlantic Ocean, Americans changed the game of gridiron to fit their own preferences. This eventually would be what Americans called football.

The word “soccer” has been used less in Britain since 1980, and now is not used at all to refer to the sport.


Why is baseball considered “America’s pastime”?

What makes baseball “America’s pastime”? Not all Americans are baseball fans, and in fact the most popular sport in America is not baseball, football, or basketball- it’s NASCAR. So why do we still call it that?

Back in the early 1900s when Americans were still trying to define who they were on a global scale, the world was at war. During both World War I and World War II, the American military used sports, particularly baseball, as battle training. Many of the skills used in baseball such as running, jumping, and hand-eye coordination translated easily into crucial skills the troops needed.

Aside from being used for training, the American troops had a fair amount of free time when they weren’t fighting during the war. They found that baseball was the easiest sport to pick up and play, and the most mobile sport they could carry with them wherever they went.

During WWII, almost 500 major league baseball players served in the American military. After the war ended, many of those troops were not immediately sent home. During this down time, the Overseas Invasion Service Expedition (OISE) assembled and created their own small baseball team called the OISE All-Stars. They played other teams from other countries, and helped Americans be seen as strong, sport-oriented people. This helped create our global identity after the war.


Why is every baseball dirty, even when they are brand new?   

If you have ever bought a brand-new baseball, you may have noticed that it is not completely clean. The reason why will surprise you.

Every baseball made in America is rubbed with a special mud before being used. This mud, called Lena Blackburne Original Baseball Rubbing Mud, comes from a secret location off of the Delaware River in South New Jersey. The mud is filtered, packaged, and sent to all baseball teams in the MLB.

This mud is applied because new baseballs are much too slippery for a player to grip correctly. This specific mud is used because it is fine-grained and light enough that it does not change how the baseball is affected by drag, but also because of tradition. This tradition started in the 1950 and still is used today.


Why do they call it the seventh-inning stretch? 

Many baseball fans may wonder why there is such thing as a seventh-inning stretch. Is it a break for the players, or is it a strategic marketing ploy to get fans to get up and buy more food while the game is not happening? The answer is open to a lot of speculation.

One of the most popular theories is because of President William Howard Taft. On opening day in 1910, President Taft was watching the Washington Senators play the Philadelphia Athletics. Between the top and bottom of the seventh inning, President Taft rose from his seat and stretched loudly. Seemingly uncomfortable (due to his obese, medical state), the rest of the crowd felt obligated to rise and stretch with him, which arguably started the tradition of the “seventh-inning stretch”. If this is not the true story, President Taft did give the term publicity.

Another accepted theory comes from a man named Brother Jasper, the Prefect of Discipline and coach of the Manhattan College baseball team. During the seventh inning of a game, he saw that the students in the stands, as well as those on the team, were becoming restless. He told everyone to get up, stretch, and unwind.


Are Olympic gold medals really made of gold?

They used to be, but unfortunately, they are no longer made of pure gold.

At the 1912 Stockholm Olympic games, the last series of fully-gold Olympic gold medals were distributed. Today, Olympic gold medals are made of 92.5% silver, but must contain 6 grams of gold plating.


Where did the term “to win hands-down” come from?

This term originally comes from horse racing. If a jockey can win a race without raising his hands to tighten the reins on his horse, it means that he won “hands-down”. This usually only happens when the jockey has a far enough lead that he can loosen the reins and allow the horse to slow down, but still win.

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