World War II and the Effect on Professional Sports [Video]


On this day Dec 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked Perl Harbor bringing the United States into World War II. No one knew what was going to happen in the days following this devastating attack.

The one thing that was in question was our sports. American sport keeps people entertained on a daily basis, but what would it look like going forward? Many resources were being redirected to World War II during this time one would wonder how it would affect America’s pastime.


World War II changed many industries causing women to step up to take the place of missing athletes. Phillip K. Wrigley owner of the Chicago Cubs in 1943 put together an All-Girls Professional Baseball League. The league consisted of 15 Midwestern teams and lasted until 1954.

The Young Women’s Christan Association, the Catholic Youth Organization, and the Amateur Athletic Union formed basketball and softball leagues. Upper and Middle-class women took up playing tennis, golf, and skiing.

During World War II women of African descent were also becoming trailblazers in the intercollegiate track and field and began to take over post-war Olympic competitions.

WORLD WAR IIMilitary Draft

The military draft was initiated a year before the Pearl Harbor bombing and athletes between the ages of 18 and 35 were called upon to serve their country. This created a huge problem for professional sports teams because the draft would be taking their prime athletes.

Thousands of prominent athletes enlisted into military service which created a public relations explosion that created a bond between professional sports and patriotism. The country is in need of a constant morality booster so President Franklin D. Roosevelt announced that all sports should continue during wartime but he did not give a solution to those sports teams that would be losing their best players to the draft.

WORLD WAR IIFear of Second Attack

In 1942 there was a widespread fear that the Japanese might attack the West Coast. The Rose Bowl between USC and Duke was scheduled to be played one month after the Pearl Harbor attack so the game was moved from Pasadena to Durham, NC. That was the first and only time the Rose Bowl was not played in Pasadena.

During this very traumatic time, American Football was elevated and viewed as a gladiator sport comparable to the U.S. military experience. Football became the most-watched sport on military bases.

Army Navy Football

WORLD WAR IIThe Army and Navy collegiate football teams gain a greater viewership during the war. The army went unbeaten for two years during the war and their games were broadcast over Armed Forces radio. Five months after the U.S. Military entered into the war, 32 percent of all NFL players had enlisted. Hundreds more enlisted causing the league to reduce from ten to eight teams.

During 1950, the Navy had eighty former players that had become admirals and the Army had ninety-eight former players that had become generals. While on active duty Army general Robert Neyland coached the University of Tennessee football team for twenty years during which time he brought military organization and discipline to his highly ranked teams and compared football to war.

The war created a challenge with teams filling their rosters so a merging of the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Philadelphia Eagles took place changing the name of the team to the Steagles

WORLD WAR IIPlayer Heros

Many of our athletic soldiers served their nation heroically. Jack Lummus formerly played for the New York Giants joined the Marine Corp and became a company commander. He played in the NFL 1941 championship game against the Chicago Bears two weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Ted Williams many would say was baseball’s greatest hitter was not able to compete with Babe Ruth for the hitting title because he was flying a fighter plane in the Marine Corp.

During the war, there was also a shortage of gas and rubber which lead to the suspension of all professional racing events. Resources were reallocated to the war efforts.

After the war, 2.2 million vets signed up for college under the GI bill making up 50 percent of collegiate players. More than three times as many colleges and universities fielded teams in 1946 than in 1945. College recruitment patterns were changed forever after the war.  Coaches and scouts went beyond their normal boundaries looking for those college athletes that had served in the military.

The professional sport was the fertile birthing ground for great soldiers and warriors.

Written by Omari Jahi


Prezi: How World War 2 Affected Sports in America, Preston Robinson

Encyclopedia: SPORTS, WORLD WAR II

Pearl Harbor: American Sports During World War II

Feature and Top Image by Beyond My Ken Courtesy of Wikimedia – Creative Commons License

First Inset Image by Ohio Office of Redevelopment Courtesy of Wikimedia – Creative Commons License

Second Inset Image Courtesy of Aberdeen Proving Ground’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License

Third Inset Image by Ted Eytan Courtesy of Wikimedia – Creative Commons License

Fourth Inset Image by U.S. Secretary of Defense Courtesy of Wikimedia – Creative Commons License

Fifth Inset Image by Tony Hisgett Courtesy of Wikimedia – Creative Commons License