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Football Zebras
Outside the Stripes70 years ago, the NFL opened the season with a prayer for peace

70 years ago, the NFL opened the season with a prayer for peace

Sometimes to know where you are, you have to know how you got there.

In a tumultuous year, it was a request for a moment of reflection and a simple gesture of peace before the kickoff of the NFL games. The commissioner obliged, and never a thought was made about political ramifications or dragging in the outside world, infiltrating the sacred sports cathedrals of this nation.

The year was 1950.

A generation coarsened by the Great Depression and the second War to End All Wars was eager to return to a normal life, it was, for many who did not have systemic barriers in the way, a return to normalcy and prosperity of the 1920s and beyond.

That ideal life was being threatened as President Truman was sending U.S. air and ground forces to Korea. The peace after the staggering global war was to be short lived. The New York Yanks — a new NFL team brought over in the acquisition of the All-America Football Conference that year — held their home opener in the House that Ruth Built with a pregame moment of reflection with hope for change

The National Football League last night became an active participant in the movement when fans were asked to observe a short silence for peace for all people before the Detroit-New York Yanks game in Yankee Stadium.

The game in New York and the pregame observance were broadcast on the radio and the emerging medium of television. The rest of the NFL followed that weekend, as did baseball in the opening of the World Series.

The idea for the peace prayer came from Arch Ward, the sports editor of The Chicago Tribune. His plea was that sports use its platform in his “In the Wake of the News” column.

Sport [is] something more than exercise for participants and recreation for spectators. It is a way of life that all of us, we believe, want to preserve. We live in a strange world, a turbulent world, a world that is threatened with destruction. … But how can you and I and millions of others advance the cause? There’s one simple way. Prayer. …

Wouldn’t it be efficacious for these tremendous throngs to take 30 seconds just before the game to offer a prayer to God for peace for all peoples … regardless of denominational affiliation?

And so, a population felt they could not be bystanders. They felt that the world is tearing apart, that they were losing a fight to keep what ground they gained, that the loss of human treasure was so great and should not be repeated, yet the cycle was going to continue unabated. Those teams used the platform of sports — spreading to the collegiate and scholastic levels as well — to bring forth a message that they desired peace. Rhetorically, it could have been mocked as a pro-communist gesture, a very damaging label at the time. There was no booing reported.

“Peace for all peoples” as it was proposed. Seventy years later, this is just a very long overdue completion to Ward’s original request.

Quirky Research contributed to this report. Photo:Kansas City Chiefs

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Ben Austro
Ben Austro is the editor and founder of Football Zebras and the author of So You Think You Know Football?: The Armchair Ref's Guide to the Official Rules (on sale now)

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