With sports cemented into popular culture for the foreseeable future, it’s only natural to wonder which sport will take hold as the most popular in the United States. For much of the 20th century, baseball held the title. MLB’s presence was woven into American culture as much for its mysticism as its activism. But in the 1980s and 1990s, football and basketball quickly took center stage in the sports discourse in the U.S.
The rise of Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson in the NBA and Joe Montana and Steve Young in the NFL coincided perfectly, for those leagues, with the MLB strike in 1994 and its subsequent issues with steroids in the early 2000s. As Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens — icons of baseball and American pop culture — were shunned by fans, Tom Brady and LeBron James began to take hold of the American sports landscape.
Since then, baseball has experienced a gradual decline for its lack of excitement and slow pace. The traits that were once beloved about baseball, that defined the core of the game, have become its biggest obstacle in recapturing youthful fans. Meanwhile, basketball has only continued to explode in popularity because of its low barrier of entry and its quick pace. Similarly, football began to dominate Sundays on a regular basis, and much of sport media has begun to analyze the NFL for the rest of the week.
Much of the appeal of the NFL lies in its consistency every week. Whereas baseball and basketball flow through entire seasons with no defined pattern, football comes around once a week — brash as can be — and captivates the nation.
While basketball is only on an upward trajectory, football is trending in the wrong direction. Concussions plaguing former players have caused an uproar from current players and fans alike, and there’s no real solution to a game that revolves around brutality in the highest degree.
Baseball, despite its slow pace, has a core of young players reminiscent of the superstars of the 1990s, like Ken Griffey Jr., and the league’s front office is working to make the game more appealing to a wider audience. Baseball is still beloved for its tranquility.
No longer a sport of mystery, baseball possesses a certain characteristic that other sports can never replicate: patience. If football is beer and basketball is soda, baseball is wine. All have their appeal, and they likely always will.