November 12, 1933 – First Legal Sunday Football Games in Pennsylvania

In 1682 Pennsylvania enacted its first “blue law” relating to worldly business on Sundays, the Christian Sabbath. The law prescribed criminal sanctions for “Whoever does or performs any worldly employment or business whatsoever on the Lord’s day, commonly called Sunday, works of necessity and charity only exempted, or uses or practices any game, hunting, shooting, sport or diversion whatsoever on the same day not authorized by law.”

(But not on Sunday)

Per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the ban carried over when Pennsylvania became a state in 1787, and was re-enacted by the Pennsylvania Legislature almost verbatim in 1939.

But as the AP reports:

Pennsylvania’s prohibition on Sunday sports finally bent, but didn’t break, with the public’s demand to be able to see professional teams such as the Philadelphia Athletics.

In 1933, lawmakers enacted compromise legislation. Baseball and football could be played on Sunday between 2 and 6 p.m., if local voters approved a referendum. Most of the larger cities and towns approved.”

In fact, voters in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia overwhelmingly endorsed Sunday baseball and football, by 7 to 1 margins. (See, J. Thomas Jable, “Sunday Sport Comes to Pennsylvania,” online here.)

On November 12, 1933 – this day in history, and the first Sunday after the sports exception was signed into law, the Philadelphia Eagles and Pittsburgh Steelers played Pennsylvania’s first Sunday football games. The Eagles tied the Chicago Bears in front of 20,000 fans in Philadelphia, and the Steelers (then known as the Pittsburgh Pirates) lost to the Brooklyn Dodgers in front of 12,000 fans in Pittsburgh. [The Brooklyn Dodgers were an American football team that played in the National Football League from 1930 to 1943, and in 1944 as the Brooklyn Tigers.]

It wasn’t until 1978 that the State Supreme Court ruled that the blue laws were unconstitutional, because the legislation caused “different treatment be accorded to persons placed by a statute into different classes on the basis of criteria wholly unrelated to the objective of the particular statute.” Justice Louis L. Manderino, writing for the court in Kroger Co. v. O’Hara Tp. (481 Pa. 101), pointed out:

The Sunday Trading Laws as a whole must fail when examined in this light. There is no fair and substantial relationship between the objective of providing a uniform day of rest and recreation and in permitting the sale of novelties but not Bibles and bathing suits; in permitting the sale of fresh meat patties but not frozen meat patties; or in permitting the installation of an electric meter but not a T.V. antenna.”

The Court did say, however, that the Legislature could re-enact certain Sunday prohibitions if they were uniformly enforced.

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