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Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Professional Football Contract 1940

Scott Sturman

Above is the original professional football contract offered to my father in 1940. The value of the contract was $1375 for eleven games played over a three month period. This roughly is equivalent to $21,000 in 2009 dollars.

When reading the contract, one is struck by the difference in attitudes and expectations between 1940 and nowadays. After having read it, consider how the philosophy of players and management have changed over 70 years. It is perhaps one more reflection of why they are considered the “greatest generation.”

My father was born and raised on a ranch near Lusk, Wyoming by the Nebraska border. He attended the University of Wyoming and was the first native born Wyomingite to earn All-American football honors. Like many of his generation, as war loomed in Europe he chose to enlist in the armed services. He served for three years in the Pacific Theater as a combat infantryman and took part in four amphibious assaults at Attu, the Marshall Islands, Leyte Gulf, and Okinawa. By the time WWII was over, his chance to play professional football was lost, but I never heard him complain about the turn of events. He was a patriot first and athlete second.

Note: I wrote an account of my father’s combat history and the speech he gave when at the age of 75 he was inducted into the University of Wyoming Athletic Hall of Fame. The Tiger’s Tail

If one has difficulty reading the original contract, a transcribed copy follows:

January 22, 1940
Mr. Kenneth Sturman
University of Wyoming
Laramie, Wyoming

Dear Mr. Sturman:

This is the period of the year when we sign our new players to more effectively plan our next autumn’s campaign. Therefore, it is quite appropriate that we now make our tenders to you. This explanation is prefaced lest you suspect that we are too precipitate in approaching you thus far in advance of the football season.

Concerning conditions of which a prospective player should be informed: At least eleven games are played each season. The training season begins about the middle of August. The club houses and feeds its players during the entire training season. After the opening game the player pays his own expenses while the team is in Brooklyn, but while on the road the club pays all expenses. The Brooklyn club furnishes all playing equipment for league games except the player’s pads, but the player must supply his own practice rig, rough but adequate. With the Brooklyn club the player receives his full salary whether he plays in the games or sits on the bench, and if injured in game or practice he is given the most expert medical treatment and full pay for games. The player is expected to conduct himself always like a gentleman and an athlete, and to keep in the best possible physical condition. We have no place for wastrels, dissipaters, or cheaters. Players are paid in full after each game by the club.

We do not present professional football as a major life pursuit, nor the short bridge to fortune. It does, however, provide a young college grad with means to tide over that perilous period between graduation and the time for deciding what shall be his life pursuit. Many of our players fit themselves for the higher professions by playing football and earning the the tuition and living costs to be incurred while filling out the complete study terms in the off months. Or if a player intends to make coaching his career, there is no better intensive schooling than the professional game.

We like to impress our prospective players, too, with the truth that big league professional football is a very, very serious business involving heavy money investments by the management, a winning season spells profits, but a losing team entailing staggering losses. But the player shares heavily, also, if his team goes into the playoff. In last December’s playoff each winning Green Bay player received $705.00, while each losing New York player received $485.00. Pro football provides the good player the game’s pleasures in competition, the joys of physical contact and achievement, of victory in games won and the spectator’s plaudits, and association with gentlemanly teammates.

As the important topic of pay offered you, the Brooklyn club always has been one the most generous in the National Football League. Therefore, we state with emphasis in advance that we do not haggle over terms, nor make indefinite tenders with loopholes for traders’ arguments. Giving full weight to all considerations, we have estimated the price we will pay for your skilled services, and merely state that they are generous. The terms contained in the enclosed contract, on the basis of eleven games, will make your season’s total $1375.00 for three months of playing.

Sign all three copies of the contract, and keep for yourself the tan-colored one. Mail the pink and white copies direct to us. Also, fill out the enclosed league questionnaire to give us the necessary information for the press. Do not delay too long before returning your contract, for obvious reasons. It might be well if you talked this over with Steve Hokuf who was one of our most valued players when I was General Manager of the Redskins in Boston. He knows all the angles and can advise you wisely.

All good wishes.

Sincerely yours,
Dennis J. Shea, Bus. Mgr.

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