Famous Letters of Sport: What We Can Learn from Records of the Events, Players, and Pastimes

“It’s only a game.” This phrase has been passed down through time as a way to remind people of the bigger picture in life. However, the wider world of sports is more than just one player or team facing off against another. With the massive crowds, noteworthy purses, and stunning defeats, the stakes can be quite high. 

For anyone who wants to study the historical significance of those stakes, they might be able to find a microfiche clipping or two about an event or player. Or they could turn to famous letters in sports, where the drama comes through in flying colors. We’ll look at just a few of the famous letters from the past and what they reveal about their time. 

The Epsom Derby: Letter to Emily Davidson 

When the Epsom Derby was held in June 1913, it was attended by half a million people — including the royal family. It’s one of the best known horse races of all time, but not because of the jockey who won. During the action, suffragette Emily Davidson ran out on the field and was fatally hit by a horse. 

This was a tragedy, but some viewers were angry at the way she chose to express her frustrations with the patriarchy. One Englishman, who did not sign with another moniker, wrote her a vitriolic letter, one that expressed his hatred towards her and his satisfaction that she was injured by the act. His letter to her was when she was in the hospital. (While she did not pass away immediately, she ultimately did die four days after the race.)

The Jules Rimet Trophy: Ransom Note to the Chairman of Chelsea F.C.

In 1966, the Jules Rimet Trophy was stolen from its temporary home at Central Hall Westminster. A ransom note for £15,000 was sent to Joseph Mears, the Chairman of Chelsea F.C., along with the trophy’s gold lid to prove that the request was real. Getting the cup back fell on a detective at the Metropolitan Flying Squad.

The thief, petty criminal Edward Bletchley, was onto the game though. After noticing the undercover cop car, he immediately fled After he was caught, he refused to tell the cops where the trophy was. It had to be discovered by a dog and his walker buried under a bush in East London. Thankfully, it was just two days after the arrest. His letter, full of demands and misspellings, provides a different perspective on the value of a trophy. 

Korean Peace: Letter from Dennis Rodman to Donald Trump 

Basketball’s Dennis Rodman forged a friendship with dictator Kim Jung-Un when he visited North Korea for an exhibition. He would petition Obama during this presidency to end the animosity between the US and the country, and when Trump took over in 2016, he would continue to try and bring the leaders of both countries together.

He wrote a letter to Trump in 2019 that largely praised the then-President and made unrealistic promises about a unification that wouldn’t come to pass (at least, not according to Rodman’s timeline). This document highlights how versatile diplomacy can be, and how relationships can be developed in some unlikely places. The International ping-pong championships in the 1970s was another major diplomatic mission. 

These are just a few highlights of the many famous letters in sports, and they provide context to our understanding of the past. Studying and interpreting them can tell you more about anything from the mindset of the era’s people to the history of the sport.