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Political Football: Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson and the Gridiron Reform Movement

John S. Watterson III
Presidential Studies Quarterly
Vol. 25, No. 3, Civil Rights and Presidential Leadership (Summer, 1995), pp. 555-564
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/27551467
Page Count: 10
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Political Football: Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson and the Gridiron Reform Movement
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Abstract

In the early stages of Progressive reform, Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson took an intense interest in the controversy over the reform of college football. In the 1890s and early 1900s, college football faced a torrent of criticism over injuries and the role of athletics in college life. Roosevelt and Wilson, loyal followers of Harvard and Princeton, had defended football in the 1890s. In the fall of 1905, however, President Theodore Roosevelt called a conference of eastern football experts at the White House to discuss brutality and unsportsmanlike conduct. During the controversies that followed, Roosevelt worked behind the scenes to bring about sufficient reform to preserve football and ensure that it would continue to be played at Harvard. In 1909-10, when college football again faced an injury crisis, President Woodrow Wilson of Princeton University worked with the other presidents of the eastern "Big Three" to make reasonable reforms. In their styles of promoting football reform, both Roosevelt and Wilson showed approaches that coincided with their strategies for political change while serving in the American presidency. In the years that followed the reforms on the gridiron, football evolved rapidly into the "attractive" game that Wilson had advocated and a far less brutal game than the unruly spectacle that Roosevelt had tried to control.

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