Freemasons have made their mark throughout history as politicians, historians, teachers and Presidents. There have also been many notable Masons that have made advancements in more creative and out-of-the-box professions such as writers, musicians, magicians, and even astronauts. However, an industry not so often talked about in relation to the square and compasses is…..professional sports. Interestingly enough, there have been a number of prominent Freemason athletes that have made a name for themselves on and off the field (or court, green, etc.) and are showing that Freemasons have the power to affect the masses in a positive way.
We all know that playing or watching sports is a beloved pastime of countries all over the world. But what many don’t realize is how Freemasons have contributed to the process of creating and spreading the games we enjoy so much today. Read on to learn about the origins of some of our favorite sports and discover three of the most impactful and dedicated Masonic sportsmen of the last century.
Sports: An Origin Story
The immensely popular game of soccer, also known as football, was originally created at the Freemason’s Arm Pub near London’s Covent Garden in 1863. In the process of deliberating the rules of the game, Masons created two categories of football: association football and rugby football. Initially, the differences between the two were blurry, but by 1874, they had settled into the distinct sports we know them to be today. There are even aspects of soccer and rugby that are mirrored in Masonic rituals and traditions. For example, the signal used by a soccer referee to indicate a successful goal is also used by the Master Mason during meetings. Even the leadership structure and meeting rituals of the Football Association incorporate many key practices associated with Freemasonry.
Masons have also helped to shape and popularize another game we all know and love: baseball. There were several Masonic baseball leagues in major cities throughout the early 20th century. In fact, a jersey exhibited by the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library is said to have been worn by a player in Detroit during the 1910s and 1920s. Throughout history, a number of Freemasons have been successful professional baseball players. So many so, that in 1935, Trenton’s Tall Cedars of Lebanon Forest No. 4 held an All-Star Masonic Game, pitting National League and American League players against each other.
Freemasons continue to be an integral part of the American sports tradition. Many of our nation’s most beloved and accomplished athletes are an integral part of our Brotherhood. Here are some we think you should know about:
Arnold Palmer: The King of Golf
Considered one of the greatest golfers of all time, Brother Palmer, 33°, was raised as a Master Mason in 1959 at the Loyalhanna Lodge No. 275 in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. He is often credited with popularizing the game of golf along with other members of the “Big Three,” Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player. Throughout his athletic career, Arnold Palmer had a total of 94 professional wins, earning him a rightful spot in the Golf Hall of Fame. Outside of golf, he devoted his life to philanthropic missions and established his charitable foundation Arnie’s Army. He also the man who brought golf to Communist China Brother Palmer’s decades of service earned him the Scottish Rite Gourgas Medal in 2010.
Jack Dempsey: World Heavyweight Champion
Born William Harrison Dempsey, famed boxer Jack Dempsey was a member of the Kenwood Lodge No. 800 in Chicago, Illinois. He is known as the reigning World Heavyweight Champion for seven years from 1919 to 1926 and as a result became the richest athlete in the world for that time. Brother Dempsey’s distinct fighting style made him one of the most popular boxers in history with many of his fights set audience attendance records. When the country entered World War II, Jack Dempsey selflessly enlisted in the New York National Guard. Later, he served in the United States Coast Guard Reserve where he was honorably discharged in 1945.
Ty Cobb: The Georgia Peach
Inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1936, Tyrus Raymond Cobb is considered to be one of the best baseball players of all time. Brother Cobb was an outfielder and played 24 seasons of major league baseball until he retired in 1928. He was known for his aggressive playing style and incredible technique, making it no surprise that he is credited with setting 90 MLB records during his athletic career. What many don’t know about Ty Cobb is that he was also a devoted member of our Brotherhood. He joined Royston Lodge No. 426 (now 52) in Detroit at the young age of 21. He received his Scottish Rite 32° in 1912. Cobb’s family had a history of Freemasonry as well, where his father served as the Master Mason of the Royston Lodge No. 426 from 1899 to 1903.
Shaquille O’Neal: The Shaq of all Trades
At 7 ft 1 in tall and 325 pounds, Shaquille O’Neal might be one of the tallest Freemasons of the 21st century. The legendary basketball star played on six NBA teams during his professional career and is currently an analyst on the television program, Inside the NBA. Shaq is said to be a member of Widow’s Son Lodge No.28 in Boston where Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Massachusetts F&M Grand Master, M:.W:. Frederick B.Summer, made him a Prince Hall Mason at sight. Shaq has also shown his Masonic ring on his television show, sporting the square and compass symbol.
Game, Set, and Match
We are proud of our Brothers who have represented Freemasonry in athletics and furthered our favorite sports with the Masonic values of integrity, service. With the goal in mind to spread light and uplift the world, helping to develop and popularize such a beloved form of entertainment in society seems to fit the bill. Sports have helped tide Americans through some of the toughest times in history and we are proud to have had a hand in it.
We look towards The Path Forward to see what future athletic accomplishments freemasons will achieve and are excited to be a part of it.