Introduction
Firsts
Olympians
Game Makers
More than Champions
Barrier Removers
Superstars
Additional Objects
Athletes have a unique ability to inspire, motivate, and exhilarate. Through their actions, athletes touch the hearts and lives of all Americans. Herein lies the hidden message of sports: sports inspire us individually and as a nation to be better."

— William F. "Bill" Russell

Abraham Lincoln's handball, 1850s
Artifact Detailsview larger

Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865) broke barriers and altered the course of history. "The Great Emancipator" loved competitive sports. In the months leading up to the 1860 presidential election, he and his friends used this handball in heated contests in a Springfield, Illinois, alley.

— Gift of Richard S. Hagen


Sports illuminate and transform a society. Sports change lives, affect politics, fuel our economy, and shape our culture. The American Dream is personified in our champions, in the records they set and the barriers they break. The dynamic interaction of athletes, fans, and the media produces inexplicable loyalties, lasting legends, and revered heroes. The greatest champions stand for more than the records they break. They stand for the barriers they shatter—physical, social, psychological, racial, cultural—and change the way we think about our world.

Sports: Breaking Records, Breaking Barriers portrays athletes from more than a dozen sports. Highlighting artifacts from the Smithsonian's sports collection, the exhibition spotlights the pioneering men and women who dominated their sports; championed their country, race, or sex; and helped others to achieve. Both on and off the playing field, these undaunted individuals broke records for themselves and broke barriers for us all.

Ellen Roney Hughes, Curator


 
National Museum of American History   Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service