Posts Tagged ‘Univesity of California’

1899 Cal Players Exploited

July 8, 2020

While researching the 1899 Christmas Day game between Carlisle Indian School and the University of California for an upcoming article, I learned that the Cal players had voted three times against playing in this post-season game. Initially, they gave fatigue from the season just finished and the need to study for final exams as the reasons for objecting to another game. What turned out to be the real reason was the money. Players complained that the Thanksgiving Day game against archrival Stanford had generated a lot of revenue but athletes received no benefits from it.

A major objection was that Cal’s athletes didn’t have a “clubhouse” in spite of generating lots of money and receiving nothing in return. Only after they’d wrested control of the finances from Manager Irwin J. “Jerry” Muma and transferred it to the athletic committee did the team agree to the tough, but potentially profitable, game with the Indians.

A major difference between then and now is that in the decades before the dawn of the NFL, athletic scholarships were not (officially) allowed. Student players generally paid full tuition and received nothing for their efforts, aside from the adulation of comely co-eds—unless alumni with deep pockets were generous with their money. The Cal players’ case for controlling the finances was considerably different than for today’s gladiators who get athletic scholarships, numerous perks not available to other students, and a shot at turning pro. Why should they have performed risky, unpaid labor for a college unwilling to use some of the profits for facilities that would improve athletes’ performance?