By William Lyon Phelps
Attacks on the American game of football are often more sensational than the game itself. Some volley out statistics of injuries, in which we see the names of persons "crippled for life" whom we know to be unlike their biographers in that they are both well and cheerful; others descant wildly on the evils of betting and the drunkenness attendant upon a great match; others deplore the time and attention robbed from study; some believe the rivalry of two strong teams causes prolonged bitterness and hatred; some regard the intense earnestness of training as both silly and harmful; some assert that the players on the field behave like ruffians, and some, like the old Puritans, hate the game not because they really think it wicked but because they secretly hate to see eighty thousand people out for a holiday.
There is no doubt that football, like every other sport and recreation, is open to many serious objections. Certain players are every year killed and wounded, though the mortality is nothing like so great as that resulting from auto-mobile accidents and week-end celebrations. It is certainly true that betting and dissipation ac-company
the game; it is true that many young men sit on the benches, cheering and singing,
when they might be studying in the seclusion of their rooms.
It is true that the American spirit-always ambitious of success-makes every member of a university team train with an earnestness that seems tragicomic to the nonathletic observer.But the immense advantages of this most robust of all sports outweigh all its attendant evils.
For football is much more than a contest of ani-mal vigour; in the language of Professor Stagg, who was a moralist before he was an athlete, "Football surpasses every other game in its demand for a high combination of physical, mental and moral qualities."
This article, however, is not written for the purpose of defending modern football but rather to show that the game thus far has not only flourished in spite of attacks but that there has been a tremendous rise in its respectability since the days of Queen Elizabeth. I cannot just now remember anything on which the Puritans and the playwrights were then agreed, except their opinion of football. What Shakespeare
thought of it may be seen in the epithet which Kent applies to one of the most odious characters in King Lear. Tripping up Oswald, he calls him "you base football player."
Modern legislators must rejoice at finding that they have plenty of precedents for legal prohibition of the game. In 1424 we find "The King forbiddes that na man play fut ball under payne of iiiid." Sir Thomas Elyot remarked, in 1531, "Foote balle, wherin is nothing but beastly furie and exstreme violence."
If in Elizabethan days the dramatists, who were not noted for their piety, attacked football, what shall we expect from the Puritans? The most circumstantial indictment of the game came from a Puritan of Puritans, Philip Stubbs.
In his Anatomic of Abuses (1583) he thus denounces the sport: For as concerning football playing, I protest unto you it may rather be called a frieendly kinde of fight,
then a play of recreation; A bloody and murthering practise, then a felowly sporte or pastime. For dooth not euery one lye in waight for his Aduersarie, seek- ing to uerthrowe him & to picke him on his nose, though it be vppon hard stones? In ditch or dale, in valley or hil, or what place soeuer it be, hee careth not, so he haue him down. And he that can serue the most of this fashion, he is counted the only felow, and who but he? so that by this meanes, sometimes their necks are broken, sometimes their backs, some-time their legs, sometime their armes; sometime one part thrust out of ioynt, sometime another. Some-time the noses gush out with blood, sometime their
eyes start out; and sometimes hurt in one place, some-times in another. But whosoever scapeth away the best, goeth not scotfree, but is either sore wounded, craised, and bruiseed so as he dyeth of it, or else scapeth very hardly, and no meruaile, for they haue the sleights to meet one betwixt two, to dash him against the hart with their elbowes, to hit him vnder the short ribbes with their griped fists, and with their
knees to catch him vpon the hip, and to pick him on his neck, with a hundred such murdering devices; and hereof groweth enuie, malice, rancour, cholor, hatred,
displeasure, enemities, and what not els; and some-times fighting, brawling, contention, quarrel picking, murther, homicide, and great effusion of blood, as
experience dayely teacheth.
In the attack just quoted the most interesting thing to the modern reader is that precisely the same objections were made to the game as we hear today.
In the robust days of Queen Bess football was regarded as low and vulgar; it received the de-nunciation of the Church and the more potent frown of fashionable society. Today at a great university match prominent clergymen are seen even on the sidelines; the bleachers bloom with lovely women, and in a conspicuous place stands the President of the United States.