The Big Scrum

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In 1905 the game of football was in danger of being banned. In her conversation with John J. Miller, author of The Big Scrum: How Teddy Roosevelt Saved Football, Karen Given and Miller discuss how football has evolved since the campaign to ban the game. Miller talks about the reasons why Teddy Roosevelt so vehemently defended football, and discusses the feud that existed between President Roosevelt, a vocal supporter of the game, and Harvard President Charles Eliot, one of football's greatest detractors.

Karen's thoughts on The Big Scrum

Bill Littlefield is fond of saying that he loves his job because he learns some thing new every week.  I feel the same way.

For example, I was a Political Science major in college, but I had never heard of a movement called Muscular Christianity.  Muscular Christianity is at the core of why an active President of the United States intervened to help save the game of football and the lives of those who played it.

In his new book, The Big Scrum:  How Teddy Roosevelt Saved Football, John J. Miller offers a fascinating look into the history of the game that eventually became the most popular sport in the United States.

Football may be dangerous now, but at the turn of the century it was positively brutal.  More than a dozen players died every year.  Mass momentum plays like the "flying wedge" were almost certain to result in serious injuries.  Fighting and lawlessness on the field added to the problem.  In 1905, the sport was in danger of being banned, not just at individual universities, but by entire state legislators.

According to Miller, President Roosevelt had been a fan of the game since his freshman year at Harvard.  One afternoon in Washington, he held a summit between some of the sport's most influential people and demanded that they make the game safer.

Did Roosevelt really save football?  Or would the changes have happened anyway?  It's not an easy question to answer, but it's certainly fun to try.

This segment aired on May 21, 2011.

Karen Given Executive Producer/Interim Host, Only A Game
Karen is the executive producer for WBUR's Only A Game.



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