Can you imagine driving your car in Detroit in the 1930s and pulling up to a gas station to have your Tigers hero Charlie Gehringer filling up your tank?
In today’s sports world the players are of course millionaires and there is not a financial need for them to work in the off season. But back in the day, and not so very long ago, athletes held other jobs because their sports salary was insufficient for taking care of their families.
I have heard that in the 1950s Tiger short stop and fan favorite delivered mail in Dearborn in the off season. Alex Karras once told me in an interview that he made more money in the off season selling cars at Northland Dodge then he did on his football salary. In the early 1960’s the Lions’ had a very good offensive lineman named Darryl Sanders who quit football after just four seasons because he made more money working in the auto industry.
Some players were smart enough to know that their athletic career would not last forever and therefore started businesses during their career such as the Lions’ Darris McCord who would go into his printing company office on a regular basis during the football season.
If you look at the old Detroit Lion programs from the 1960s there is even a letter addressed to the fans from owner William Clay Ford asking them to consider hiring his football players.
We certainly cannot begrudge the players making the salaries that they do today, well maybe except for the fact that the public unfortunately subsidizes their place of employment by paying taxes for stadium construction and many fans cannot afford to attend the games because it is very expensive.
I believe there is a disconnect between today’s players and the general public largely because of the widening socio-economic gap and the fact so many do not stay in the area and switch teams so often.
Let’s just put it this way. I don’t think any of the players will be filling your tank up or selling you a new car anytime soon.