1907 JAMA: ‘Football is no game for boys to play’

By Matt Chaney, ChaneysBlog.com

Posted Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The year 1905 would become storied for “reform” of American football, even if the large majority of critics only wanted “open” play and elimination of “foul” tactics like punching. College football was a national tradition and big business, with famed teams like Yale and Harvard constituting major entertainment enterprises. Universities, newspapers and magazines capitalized in their symbiotic commerce of promoting the blood sport. Very few individuals spoke up for college football’s abolition in 1905, despite legend to endure. But juvenile football at schools and preps was different, facing distinct threat in a controversy overlooked by future historians. Abolitionists confronted schoolboy football nationwide at outset of the 1900s, and supporters of the youth game rallied for the fight. President Theodore Roosevelt enmeshed himself in football debate and impacted public opinion; the immensely popular “T.R.” heartily endorsed school football, often mentioning his sons’ game exploits in speech, conversation and letter. But prickly questions loomed. Ostensibly this was time of “progressive reform” and citizen welfare, child protection—led by President Rooseveltand the issue of juvenile football confronted institutions of medicine, government, education and athletics, over ethics and law. Voices of college football and higher education increasingly denounced the game for minors. The boys game had grown since the 1880s within football’s trace blazed by colleges, and the latter weren’t always appreciative of junior imitation. Many football insiders believed young adult players of prep academies, high schools and athletic clubs were sufficient to stock college teams. Moral arguments aside, such critics believed football players had but a shelf life for administering and withstanding game violence and stress, and that wasn’t served by premature starts. A majority of doctors ripped boys football in public, meanwhile, and girls tackle sport was unfathomable. When the widely promised “safer football” failed to materialize by end of 1907, especially for schoolboys, officials of the American Medical Association declared a clear stance in their prestigious journal.

The historical texts and notes on football issues previously posted here in timeline were publicly available only for a term. The collections are now in reserve by the researcher for future use. The following remain posted:

Chaney, M. (2016, Dec. 21). ‘Safe Football Failed in 1880s, Talking Points Lived On. ChaneysBlog.com

Chaney, M. (2015, July 28). The 1890s: Brain risks confirmed in American football. ChaneysBlog.com.

Chaney, M. (2016, Jan. 30). 1900-1912: ‘First Concussion Crisis’ for beloved football. ChaneysBlog.com.

Chaney, M. (2016, May 11). ‘Heads Up’ theory, football helmets and brain disease, 1883-1962. ChaneysBlog.com.

Chaney, M. (2016, May 31). Teddy Roosevelt loved football, except when it brutalized his son. Sports.Vice.com.

Chaney, M. (2016, Nov. 29, 2016). “Slaughter of the innocents”: When D.C. considered banning high school football. Sports.Vice.com.

Matt Chaney is a writer, editor, researcher and consultant on public issues in sport, specializing in American football for three decades. Chaney, with an MA in media studies, is a former college football player and coach whose books include Spiral of Denial: Muscle Doping in American Footballfrom his Four Walls Publishing in 2009Chaney’s study for graduate thesis, co-published with the University of Central Missouri in 2001, analyzed print sport-media coverage of anabolic substances in football from 1983-1999. Email him at mattchaney@fourwallspublishing.com or visit the website for more information.