Sports in the 1940’s
Sports and War.
World War II shaped sports in the 1940s, as it did all of American culture. The sports world did its best to maintain business as usual, but all organized games and contests were disrupted after 7 December 1941, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, and the disruption continued until well after the end of the war in August 1945. Able-bodied men were expected to serve in the military, and most qualified professional athletes answered the call. Early in 1941 sports stars inducted into the armed forces included baseball player Hank Greenberg and football players Dave Smulker and Chuck Gelatka. By 1945, ...view middle of the document...
When Chuck Cooper from Duquesne University joined the Boston Celtics in 1950 to become the first black professional basketball player, games were canceled in protest. College football teams that included blacks were forced to call off games in mid-decade, especially in the South. Charles Pierce was the first black to play against a southern team, when Harvard, Pierce's team, played the University of Virginia in 1947.
Just as the wartime labor shortage gave women opportunities to work at traditional men's jobs in defense plants, the shortage of men on the playing fields briefly gave women athletes a chance to play in the spot-light. With the threat of canceling the 1943 baseball season looming before the major league owners, Philip Wrigley of the Chicago Cubs and Branch Rickey, the managerial genius of the Brooklyn Dodgers, created the All-American Girls Baseball League, which enjoyed surprising, though brief, success. Women made lasting gains in the world of golf, due to the achievements of two spectacular stars, Mildred "Babe" Didrikson and Patty Berg, and women's tennis began to attract attention at the end of the decade when Gussie Moran brought sex appeal to the courts.
Professional sports took the first steps toward becoming big business after World War II. In the early 1940s professional sports were still reeling financially from the Depression. Professional basketball was unorganized, and players averaged only about $50 per week, playing 150 games a season. While attendance at baseball games dropped during the war, only 1943 was a disastrous year, and even then twelve of the sixteen major league teams reported profits. In 1947 players negotiated a minimum salary for the first time ($5,500 per year), and the owners agreed to establish the first players' pension fund. In the postwar years, as it became possible for teams to travel more and as television began providing revenue to teams, salaries soared. Saint Louis Cardinal star Stan Musial was making $50,000 per year by 1950, and he got a 70 percent raise the next year. Before the war professional football players earned an average of $150 per game; by 1949 their salaries had increased to an...