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The 13 Most Impressive Performances From 1978's Rock ‘N Roll Sports Classic

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In 1978, the Associated Press awarded their Male Athlete of the Year Award to New York Yankees pitcher Ron Guidry while golfer Nancy Lopez took the Female Athlete of the Year honors. With all due respect to Mr. Guidry and Ms. Lopez, the AP made a terrible choice. 1978's most talented athletes were, beyond a shadow of a doubt, Kenny Loggins and The Runaways' Sandy West.

Don't believe me? Feast your eyes on the Rock ‘N Roll Sports Classic, a primetime ABC special that pitted the music world's biggest stars against one another in a series of loosely organized athletic events:

The special, which aired on May 3rd, ushered in sweeps season and featured a bevy of big name stars. Oh, it truly was a bevy. Check out the participants, whose names I've written in bold because such a bevy deserves bold:

Boston, The Commodores, ELO, Gladys Knight and the Pips, The Jacksons, Earth, Wind & Fire, The Runaways, Seals & Crofts, Marilyn McCoo & Billy Davis, Jr., Rod Stewart, The Runaways, Kenny Loggins, Tanya Tucker, and Leif Garrett.

Also, Sha Na Na was invited for some reason.

You really should watch the full clip above, but if for some reason you can't take an hour and fifteen minutes out of your day to watch Leif Garrett run hurdles, I've broken down the most noteworthy performances.

13. Kenny Loggins—Men's 50 Yard Freestyle Swim

The thing that impressed me most about Kenny Loggins was the focus he brought to the games. This man was clearly in the zone. Could you say he was in the "danger zone?" Yes you could. You could say that Kenny Loggins was in the danger zone.

He'd need that focus because look at his competition:

ELO's Hugh McDowell pushed Loggins to the limit, but Loggins was not to be denied.

When asked about his preparation, Loggins told Susan Anton after the race, "Actually I did about 80 laps for two weeks."

Kenny Loggins trained for the Rock ‘N Roll Sports Classic.

12. Joan Jett—Women's Cycling Race (Unspecified Distance)

Holy crap look how cool Joan Jett is. If your kids ever tell you they don't want to wear a bike helmet, show them this Joan Jett bicycle race and they'll never take it off.

Jett gives Tanya Tucker a pretty nice cushion before passing her on the last straight with ease on a very wet and tricky track. Tanya Tucker had no idea what hit her.

11. Jackie Jackson—Men's 100 Yard Dash

Jackson creams everyone in this sprint, including his brother Michael.

(“I don’t play that many sports,” Michael says later in an interview. “He’s not in shape. He hasn’t been eating enough eggs,” says Jackie.)

10. Marlon Jackson—Team Long Jump

Marlon Jackson wows the crowd and wins their hearts with a long jump of just over 15 feet, narrowly beating...

Kenny Loggins! Fly Kenny, you magnificent bearded falcon, FLY!

9. Bubba Knight—Speed Walking Walkathon

Bubba Knight—older brother of Gladys and a member of the Pips—won the speed walking event.

Coming in last was Sha Na Na's Lennie Baker, who didn't fare too well:

8. Sandy West—Women's 60 Yard Dash

Like her Runaways bandmate Joan Jett, Sandy West is cool as all get-out.

She absolutely toasts the competition in the 60 yard dash, barely even breaking a sweat.

That trophy (designed by Cartier) was awarded to each event's winner. Host Alex Karras repeatedly mentions that the contestants weren't playing for money—only trophies. He says this so frequently that it actually raises suspicion. The trophies are nice, though.

7. Sandy West—Women's 100 Yard Dash

Sandy narrowly edges Joan Jett in the 100-yard dash. I have no doubt in my mind that The Runaways were the world's best athletic team in 1978.

6. Fran Sheehan—Overall Attitude

Boston bassist Fran Sheehan wasn't the most competitive or athletic of all the participants, but his head certainly was in the right place.

In an interview that sticks out as the most sincere moment of the entire broadcast, Sheehan reminds Barbi Benton and the viewers at home what this really was all about: “I like sports a lot. I think sports and music go hand-in-hand, because, um, sports usually are a team effort and music is a team effort as well. No one individual can sound really well unless he has people who want to and can accompany that person and make him sound better.”

Truer words were never spoken.

5. Rod Stewart—Soccer

Before starting his career in music, Rod Stewart had a trial run at Brentford FC, a professional soccer club. For the soccer event, he has a one on one penalty shootout against ELO keyboardist Rich Tandy.

“He’s gonna get really beat, this kid. He can’t play football,” Rod Stewart told Ed McMahon. He was right.

McMahon, meanwhile, screams, "No ties…KICK THE BALL!"

The sport of the future, indeed.

4. Kenny Loggins—Basketball

At first glance, Kenny Loggins is terrible at basketball. He can't dribble, can't shoot, and doesn't have any court awareness. But then you see his hustle, his defense, and his rebounding, and you realize that Kenny Loggins might be the greatest basketball player in history. Here he takes a foul shot, because Kenny Loggins isn't afraid to mix it up down low and draw contact:

3. Tanya Tucker, Ron La Pread, Ralph Johnson, and Kenny Loggins—Swimming Relay

Do you think Earth, Wind & Fire's Ralph Johnson was worried that Kenny Loggins was going to be too tired for this relay race after his tremendous and winning effort in the 50 yard freestyle swim? Probably not, considering Kenny Loggins did 80 laps for two weeks to train for this very moment.

They won easily thanks to a gutsy performance by anchor Tanya Tucker (shown below with Phyllis Diller, Sandy Duncan, Susan Anton, and a Cartier-designed trophy).

2. Rod Stewart and The Commodores—Men's Endurance Relay

Look at Lionel Richie's face. That smile says it all. The Commodores and Rod Stewart made a great team; would've been neat to hear them perform together. But, alas, they were busy running hurdles because the Rock ‘N Roll Sports Classic is first and foremost about sports.

1. Sandy West—Co-Ed 50 Yard Freestyle Swim

Susan Anton: “What’d you do to train for this?”
Sandy West: “Nothin’.”

Sandy West was the coolest. (Kenny Loggins did 80 laps for two weeks to train for this, FYI.)

[Video link via]

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History
Lady Ali: How Jackie Tonawanda Changed Women's Boxing
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As photographers and newspaper reporters looked on, Jackie Tonawanda allowed herself to be fingerprinted. It was October 7, 1974, and Tonawanda—who was dwarfed by the burly professional wrestlers waiting their turn—was taking the necessary steps to become a licensed professional boxer by the New York State Athletic Commission. The fingerprints would be sent off to Albany make sure she wasn't a felon; a physical would determine her fitness for competition.

Tonawanda didn't anticipate either one becoming a hurdle. Her main concern was that the state of New York had long prohibited women from prizefighting.

The gregarious Tonawanda told the assembled press in the commission's offices that she was the “female Cassius Clay,” referring to boxing icon Muhammad Ali. (Like Ali, she was known for boasting to the media and offering impromptu demonstrations of her hand speed.) Women could already be licensed as pro wrestlers and boxing managers in the state. Why, Tonawanda argued, should female boxers be exempt from officially participating in the sport?

Commissioners brushed off her complaints, fretting about being deemed negligent if women suffered injuries. Rumors circulated in the boxing community that blows to the chest could cause breast cancer. Ed Dooley, the head of the state's athletic commission, thought women fighting in a ring would bring “disrepute” to the venerable sport.

In time, Jackie Tonawanda would be hailed as a boxing pioneer, someone who stood up to the rampant sexism from promoters and the sport's sanctioning bodies. But in 1975, Tonawanda's license application was denied. Dooley refused to back off from his insistence that boxing was strictly a “manly art.” Tonawanda was incredulous. If that was what he believed, she thought, she would show him otherwise.

To prove her point, she would even agree to an extreme demonstration of her worth as a fighter: an unlicensed fight against a man, in full view of spectators at Madison Square Garden.

Although Tonawanda was the first woman to ever lace up her gloves at the famed New York arena, women’s boxing had been a ring attraction for decades. In 1876, two women took wild swings at one another in what may have been the first spectator women's match in the country. (The prize was a silver butter dish.) In 1954, women competed on television for the first time. But with so few participants in the sport, it was difficult for any real momentum to develop. And without endorsement from state athletic commissions, official records and rankings were nearly impossible to come by.

Such was the state of female fighting when Tonawanda decided to compete. Born on Long Island and orphaned by age 8, she started boxing at age 13, eventually migrating to the famed Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn. As an adult, Tonawanda occupied a unique space in the art: At 175 pounds, she was larger than many of the other women who fought, making matchmaking difficult. She once stated she sparred exclusively with men because women “don't show me anything and they can’t take my power.”

With only scattered women’s bouts available, Tonawanda often fought in unsanctioned matches around the country. She managed to compile a 23-0 record (although this number would sometimes change in interviews, as would her birth year and even her height) before petitioning her home state of New York to sanction her bouts. Commission members like Dooley and former heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson were wary, fearing the seeming fragility of women might give a proverbial black eye to the sport. They turned down both Tonawanda and Marian "Tyger" Trimiar, another female boxer, citing, among other things, concerns over the possible trauma the women might suffer to their breasts.

“I don't think a blow to the breast would cause breast cancer," Irwin Weiner, an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at New York University, told The New York Times when the women first applied for licenses in 1974. "On the other hand, it's a rather tender area that can be easily bruised. It might take longer to recover from bruises there.” Dooley remained insistent, saying a fight "could endanger a female's reproductive organs and breasts."

Tonawanda didn’t accept the decision in stride. She sued the state for discrimination, arguing that women had every right to compete. In June of 1975, while the lawsuit was still being contested, she agreed to compete at a martial arts tournament at Madison Square Garden that fell outside the purview of the commission. Her original opponent was to be a Thai fighter in a mixed-rules striking contest, but that fighter ended up being replaced by an unheralded kickboxer named Larry Rodania. In the opening moments of the fight, Rodania hit her with a shot that left her unable to sleep on her left side for weeks. For much of the first round, though, Tonawanda parried his strikes, getting a sense of his timing. In the second, she landed a left that cracked his jaw and sent him to the canvas.

The referee announced that Rodania was out, unable to answer basic questions like “Where are you?” But some observers expressed doubt that the bout was legitimate. Recapping the event, Black Belt magazine questioned Rodania’s judgment in taking the fight at all. From the outside, it appeared to be a lose-lose proposition: Beating a woman in the ring would impress few, and losing to one could be ruinous in the eyes of fans who wouldn't expect a woman to be competitive with a man. It's not clear whether Rodania ever competed again.

For Tonawanda, the spectacle of her squaring off against Rodania made headlines and led to more offers, some outside of the ring. Later that year, she not only received a boxing license from the state of Maine, but also filmed a small role for the Dustin Hoffman film Marathon Man. In 1976, she was invited to spend time at a training camp with Muhammad Ali as he prepared for a bout against Ken Norton. Being around Ali, Tonawanda said, made her so nervous that she could barely eat.

If the bout was intended to elicit a response from the New York commission, however, it didn’t work. Tonawanda continued to compete in bouts outside of the state, and the commission steadfastly refused to acknowledge the rights of female prizefighters until 1978 brought a development they couldn’t ignore.

Three years prior, Tonawanda’s lawsuit had made it to the state Supreme Court, which ruled in Tonawanda’s favor and suggested she sue once again in order to have the law in New York overturned. When Tonawanda failed to follow up on their advice, another boxer, Cathy “Cat” Davis, picked up the baton and initiated a suit. When Davis’s legal action forced the commission to throw out the ban, Davis, Tonawanda, and Tremiar became the first three women to receive licenses in the state.

For the first time, Tonawanda would be able to claim a legitimate, professional fight on her record.

Despite setting a legal precedent, the court’s decision didn't guarantee that the fighters would necessarily be able to compete in New York. With so few female fighters to match up with one another, the women who were granted licenses often sought fights out of the area. The following year, Tonawanda fought Diane “Dynamite” Clark in a six-round bout in Louisville, Kentucky, in what would be her first and only professional contest. She lost in a split decision.

While it was a crucial moment for the fighters, women’s boxing continued to endure the perception that it was a sideshow. From the Rodania fight onward, Tonawanda received offers to fight men, including noted light heavyweight Mike Quarry. Quarry, Tonawanda claimed, backed out when he realized he had nothing to gain by fighting a woman.

By the mid-1980s, Tonawanda's career was winding down. She fought a man a second time, scoring another knockout at the Nassau Coliseum in 1984. It would be one of her last competitions before being injured in a 1986 car accident that ended any consideration of returning to the ring. From that point on, she became something of a mentor in various boxing gyms in the state. At Fort Apache Youth Center in the Bronx, she advised aspiring fighters on technique. Later, she trained future heavyweight contender Israel Garcia, who she met after Garcia discovered that she lived in the apartment building where he worked.

Lalia Ali faces off against Gwendolyn O'Neil of Guyana during the 2007 WBC/WIBA Super Middleweight World Title in Johannesburg, South Africa.
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In the meantime, fighters like Laila Ali, Christy Martin, and other women began gaining notoriety and respect for being capable pugilists. While they undoubtedly faced sexism, none had been forced to insist on their right to compete. That road had been paved by Tonawanda, who demanded equal footing with her male counterparts.

Tonawanda died from colon cancer in 2009. Like many boxers, she had no pension or retirement fund to fall back on, and her remains were initially destined for a mass grave on Hart Island, New York City’s potter’s field. She was saved from that fate thanks to Ring 8, the nonprofit consortium of former prizefighters that she belonged to. The group, which provides financial assistance to veteran boxers, raised enough money for a marked grave for her in the Bronx. It was proof that boxing had ultimately accepted Tonawanda, long considered an outsider, as one of their own.

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Big Questions
Why Do We Sing the National Anthem at Sporting Events?
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In early September 1814, Francis Scott Key, an American lawyer and amateur poet, accompanied American Prisoner Exchange Agent Colonel John Stuart Skinner to negotiate a prisoner release with several officers of the British Navy. During the negotiations, Key and Skinner learned of the British intention to attack the city of Baltimore, as well as the strength and positions of British forces. They were not permitted to leave for the duration of the battle and witnessed the bombardment of Baltimore's Fort McHenry on September 13 and 14. Inspired by the American victory and the sight of the American flag flying high in the morning, Key wrote a poem titled "The Defence of Fort McHenry."

Key set the lyrics to the anthem of the London-based Anacreontic Society, "The Anacreontic Song." (Nine years earlier, Key had used the same tune for “When the Warrior Returns (from the Battle Afar)” to celebrate Stephen Decatur’s return from fighting the Barbary pirates, which included the line “By the light of the Star Spangled flag of our nation.”)

The poem was taken to a printer, who made broadside copies of it. A few days later, the Baltimore Patriot and The Baltimore American printed the poem with the note "Tune: Anacreon in Heaven." Later, Carrs Music Store in Baltimore published the words and music together as "The Star Spangled Banner."

The song gained popularity over the course of the 19th century and was often played at public events like parades and Independence Day celebrations (and, on occasion, sporting events). In 1889, the Secretary of the Navy ordered it the official tune to be played during the raising of the flag. In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson ordered that it be played at all military ceremonies and other appropriate occasions, making it something of an unofficial national anthem.

After America's entrance into World War I, Major League Baseball games often featured patriotic rituals, such as players marching in formation during pregame military drills and bands playing patriotic songs. During the seventh-inning stretch of Game One of the 1918 World Series, the band erupted into "The Star-Spangled Banner." The Cubs and Red Sox players faced the centerfield flag pole and stood at attention. The crowd, already on their feet, began to sing along and applauded at the end of the song.

Given the positive reaction, the band played the song during the next two games, and when the Series moved to Boston, the Red Sox owner brought in a band and had the song played before the start of each remaining contest. After the war (and after the song was made the national anthem in 1931), the song continued to be played at baseball games, but only on special occasions like opening day, national holidays, and World Series games.

During World War II, baseball games again became venues for large-scale displays of patriotism, and technological advances in public address systems allowed songs to be played without a band. "The Star-Spangled Banner" was played before games throughout the course of the war, and by the time the war was over, the pregame singing of the national anthem had become cemented as a baseball ritual, after which it spread to other sports.

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