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5 Memorable Barrier-Breaking Moments in Sports History

5 Memorable Barrier-Breaking Moments in Sports History

5 Memorable Barrier-Breaking Moments in Sports History

Vanderbilt kicker Sarah Fuller became the first woman to play in a game for a Power 5 conference team when she kicked off against Missouri in the second half last Saturday. That kickoff to open the half was one of many barrier-breaking moments in the history of sports. Here are five of the most memorable.

5. St. Louis Rams draft Michael Sam (2014)

The Missouri defensive end and SEC Defensive Player of the Year announced that he is gay three months before the NFL draft. Sam was projected to be a mid-round pick, but his status dropped because of a poor Combine showing. Ultimately, the Rams selected him in the seventh round, making him the first openly gay player to be drafted by an NFL team. While Sam ultimately never played in the league, this moment opened the door for other college football players to come out publicly as gay.

4. The Battle of the Sexes (1973)

The exhibition tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs at Houston's Astrodome is now considered to be a bit of a sideshow, but that was not the case in 1973. An estimated 50 million Americans watched it on television, and 30,472 attended, the largest crowd for a tennis match in the United States. King said, "I thought it would set us back 50 years if I didn't win that match. It would ruin the women's tour and affect all women's self-esteem." Fortunately, none of that happened as King beat Riggs in straight sets.

3. Alabama fully integrates its football team (1970)

College football programs had been integrating their teams since the late 1930s, but many schools in the south refused to do so. That permanently changed in 1970 when Alabama head coach Paul "Bear" Bryant fielded his first integrated team for a school that did not even allow black students until 1963. The Crimson Tide's approach and success helped change this racist mindset and Ole Miss and LSU became the last two schools to follow suit and integrated their programs within the next two years.

2. President Richard Nixon signs Title IX into law (1972)

This section of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 stated: "No person in the United States shall, based on sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance." This law ushered in the era of women's sports that we have today. To give you a little perspective, Tennessee and UConn, the two most successful women's basketball programs of all time, did not field their first teams until 1973 and 1974, respectively.

1. Jackie Robinson integrates Major League Baseball (1947)

Volumes have been written and countless hours of documentaries have been produced on Robinson's integration of professional baseball. His breaking of the color barrier and success helped power the civil rights movement and shattered the horrible stereotypes that propped up segregation. Today, all MLB teams have retired his No. 42 in honor of his contribution to the game and society.

— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports' Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.

(Top photo courtesy of @VandyFootball)