Sports in the 1940's
Like most things in America, the first half of the decade was dedicated to winning the war and protecting American interests - not sports. However, there were some professional sports that emerged during the second world war like the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League that was memorialized in the movie "A League of Their Own".
Once the war came to an end and America was getting back into the swing of post war life, traditional professional baseball was quick to return and immediately re-captivated America's attention. The professional football leagues were gaining attention as well with games beginning to be broadcast to larger markets on the radio and television and professional basketball makes it debut with both the National Basketball Association and the Harlem Globetrotters.
Task 1: Watch the Introductory Video to this Unit (5 minutes)
Task 2: Review the provided images and attached links for various sports leagues and stars during the 1940's (20 minutes)
Task 3: All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (6 minutes)
Task 4: Jackie Robinson's Impact (7 minutes)
Task 5: 1940's Sports Wrap Up (10 minutes)
The first official game of baseball in the United States took place in June 1846 in Hoboken, New Jersey. Baseball is thought to have originated as a game called “rounders” in England and gained popularity in the United States in the early 1900s. It has gone by many names in the past, including “town ball,” “goal ball,” round ball,” and simply “base,” just to name a few. The first recorded rules were written by Shane Ryley Foster for a team called the Knickerbockers, based in Manhattan. Modern baseball has two official leagues, the National League and the American League; but many others cropped up over the years to offer competition. (https://www.athleticscholarships.net/history-of-baseball.htm )
Major League Baseball (MLB)
In 1869, the Cincinnati Red Stockings became America’s first professional baseball club. In 1871, the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players was established as the sport’s first “major league.” Five years later, in 1876, Chicago businessman William Hulbert formed the National League of Professional Baseball Clubs to replace the National Association, which he believed was mismanaged and corrupt. The National League had eight original members: the Boston Red Stockings (now the Atlanta Braves), Chicago White Stockings (now the Chicago Cubs), Cincinnati Red Stockings, Hartford Dark Blues, Louisville Grays, Mutual of New York, Philadelphia Athletics and the St. Louis Brown Stockings.
All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL)
The history of women playing the game of baseball dates back to at least the 1860s, when Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. fielded a team. Some 80 years later, arguably the first formal women’s professional baseball league, the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, first took the field.
The AAGPBL, which began play in 1943 and lasted a dozen years and gave more than 500 women an opportunity that had never existed before. Popularized by the 1992 feature film A League of Their Own (“There’s no crying in baseball!”), the so-called “lipstick league” was the brainchild of Chicago Cubs owner Philip K. Wrigley as a way to keep the ballparks busy during World War II if manpower shortages threatened big league baseball.
Robinson became the first Black athlete to play Major League Baseball in the 20th century when he took the field for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. Throughout his decade-long career, Robinson distinguished himself as one of the game's most talented and exciting players, recording an impressive .311 career batting average. He was also a vocal civil rights activist. (https://www.biography.com/athlete/jackie-robinson )
Professional baseball player Joe DiMaggio started and ended his Major League career with the New York Yankees. Between 1936 and 1951, DiMaggio helped lead the Yankees to nine World Series titles, earning widespread fame for his record 56-game hitting streak in 1941. Following his retirement in 1951, DiMaggio was briefly married to Marilyn Monroe and elected to the Hall of Fame in 1955. (https://www.biography.com/athlete/joe-dimaggio )
Popularly nicknamed ‘The Splendid Splinter’, Baseball Hall of fame inductee, Ted Williams is widely regarded as one of the greatest baseball players of all time. This baseball legend devoted 22 years of his life to the Boston Red Sox baseball team, a team for which he played all through his baseball career. A left fielder, Williams was recognized by the American League as the ‘Most Valuable Player’ and he has also been awarded the ‘Major League Baseball Triple Crown’. He is often referred to as ‘The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived’ because he is best remembered for his hitting prowess. (https://www.thefamouspeople.com/profiles/theodore-samuel-williams-2958.php )
The sport of American football itself was relatively new in 1892. Its roots stemmed from two sports, soccer and rugby, which had enjoyed long-time popularity in many nations of the world. On November 6, 1869, Rutgers and Princeton played what was billed as the first college football game. However, it wasn't until the 1880s that a great rugby player from Yale, Walter Camp, pioneered rules changes that slowly transformed rugby into the new game of American Football. (https://www.profootballhof.com/football-history/birth-of-pro-football/ )
National Football League (NFL)
In 1920, ten football teams gathered in Canton, Ohio to create the American Professional Football Association (APFA), now known as the National Football League (NFL). Four more teams joined the League later that year, rounding out the 14 Original NFL Towns. Canton, Ohio, now known for its Pro Football Hall of Fame. (https://www.nfl.com/100/original-towns/ )
The NFL did not have any players of color for more than 20 years, it wasn't until the 1940's that African Americans were allowed to play in the league. It wasn't until 1946 after the Plessy v Ferguson ruling by the supreme court that said separate is not equal. The Los Angeles Rams were forced to sign an African American player because the the L.A. Coliseum could no longer sign a lease agreement with a completed segregated team. By the end of the 1940's nearly all of the teams in the NFL had begun to integrate.
The game of basketball was officially invented in December of 1891 and became an Olympic sport by 1936. It was a simple game that could be played indoors during the bad weather months and would challenge players and entertain spectators. By the 1920's traveling basketball teams were forming and schools were starting to compete playing the game, by the mid-1940's the NBA was born and slowly began its rise in popularity.
National Basketball Association (NBA)
Launched in 1946 under the name "Basketball Association of America" the professional basketball league was off to a slow start with underwhelming players and games drawing large crowds was a challenge in the first several years of the league.
The league also had no players of color the first several years of existence and it wasn't until the Harlem Globtrotters and the BAA began to co-market events that the league gained traction.
It wasn't until 1950 that the league drafted its first American American Player, three African American men were drafted that year - one was a Harlem Globetrotter.
The Harlem Globetrotters were a started in 1926 and pioneered a number of revolutionary basketball moves and rule changes in the sport. They gained popularity with the birth of the NBA and notoriety when they beat the World Champion Minnesota Lakers in both 1948 and 1949.
In 1951 after a trip to Berlin on a goodwill tour the team was honored by being called “ambassadors of extraordinary goodwill.” by Abe Saperstein of the U.S. State Department. Since then the mission and the title has stuck.
The Harlem Globetrotters have been honored and celebrated by leaders from around the world.