Whether as the birthplace of professional football with the Canton Bulldogs, the home state of NBA legend LeBron James or as the home of the Ohio State Buckeyes, one of the proudest programs and fanbases in collegiate athletics, the great state of Ohio has a rich sporting tradition.
Here’s a look at some of the players and teams who have defined that identity.
Honorable Mention: Satchel Paige
One of the best things about sports is the way they tell the history of the United States. Athletics have long been a vehicle for social change, whether it was Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in 1947 or the wave of protests we’ve seen in the past few years, first sparked by quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s statements against police brutality during the National Anthem.
While he doesn’t get the same amount of attention that Robinson and the Dodgers do, the Cleveland Indians (today known as the Guardians) became the first team in the American League to employ a Black pitcher when they signed Paige in 1948.
Unfortunately, the dominating flamethrower was well past his prime at this point, signing the contract on his 42nd birthday. That didn’t stop him from turning in a respectable Major League career, though, as he pitched to a 3.29 ERA across 476 innings, 152.2 of which came with Cleveland.
A man whose career exploits in the Negro Leagues are shrouded in mystery and legend, Paige’s career is a story of what could have been: a Hall of Famer and a member of Cleveland’s last World Series championship team in 1948, one wonders what Paige could have done with a full MLB career.
Ohio State Buckeyes
With eight claimed national titles, the Ohio State Buckeyes are one of the most successful programs in the history of college football. They’re currently tied with the Alabama Crimson Tide for the second most wins in college football history, and sport one of the best winning percentages alongside it: their counting stats aren’t just the product of being one of the oldest programs in the nation.
Right now the Buckeyes are amidst another excellent season, sporting a perfect 5-0 record as the No. 3 team in the country. Funnily enough, it’s been far from smooth sailing for the Buckeyes, with lots of complaints about the team’s offense and the job that head coach Ryan Day has done since assuming the top role in 2019.
That the Buckeyes are still in the driver’s seat to win a playoff spot despite all that malaise is a testament to the program’s consistency, as well as the lofty expectations that the fanbase has after decades of rampant success.
Ohio’s BetMGM Sportsbook lists the Buckeyes as tied for the third-best chances of winning a National Championship this season (+900). Be sure to use a BetMGM Ohio bonus code if you want to wager on the Buckeyes so that you know you’re locking in the best possible odds of winning big.
Even better, the Buckeyes are far from a one trick pony. Ohio State’s men’s ice hockey, men’s and women’s basketball and men’s wrestling teams are all among the best and most consistent programs in their respective sports, giving Buckeyes fans something to cheer about for the vast majority of the school year.
Birthplace of Professional Football (and Baseball)
While the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals receive more than their fair share of criticism for having failed to win the Super Bowl, the fact remains that the Buckeye State has been integral to the history and success of the National Football League. The league was formed in Canton, Ohio in 1920, and the Pro Football Hall of Fame remains there today in recognition of that history.
Until the 1950s and 1960s, the vast majority of professional sports franchises were located east of the Mississippi River, so Ohio was a hotbed for burgeoning clubs, conveniently located in the geographic middle of most leagues.
While many of the early clubs that composed the NFL no longer exist, like the aforementioned Canton Bulldogs, Ohio once sported as many as five NFL teams at a time: among them the Akron Pros, Cleveland Tigers, Columbus Panhandlers, and Dayton Triangles.
Legendary coach and owner Paul Brown, who played a founding role in both the Browns and Bengals, also helped mold the league as we know it today, breaking football’s color barrier by hiring Black athletes and inventing offensive staples like the draw play.
Professional baseball also began in Ohio, with the Cincinnati Reds becoming the first team to pay players for their efforts in 1869, luring in bigger talents as a result and laying the groundwork for what would eventually become the National League.
Ohio’s sporting legacy is a tapestry woven with the threads of history, social change, and excellence on the field. From Satchel Paige’s groundbreaking entry into the Major League as one of the first Black pitchers to the Ohio State Buckeyes’ consistent dominance in college football, the state has left an indelible mark on the world of sports.
So, as we celebrate Ohio’s sports heritage, we are reminded of the enduring impact of sports on society, the thrill of competition, and the opportunities for both athletes and fans to make history. Ohio’s contribution to the world of sports extends far beyond its borders, and its story continues to unfold with each passing season.