Art of Manliness Podcast Episode #37: How Teddy Roosevelt Saved Football with John Miller

by Brett on April 22, 2011 · 15 comments

in Podcast

While it’s now arguably America’s favorite pastime, football came close to extinction only a short time after it started. Severe injuries and even death were common in the early days of football as players used little or no protection and the rules of the game encouraged ruthless play. Many university presidents and other social leaders called for the game’s prohibition and came close to getting their way, that is until President Theodore Roosevelt stepped in.

Our guest today has written a book on how TR helped save football. His name is John Miller and his book is called The Big Scrum: How Teddy Roosevelt Saved Football. The book’s got one of the coolest covers I’ve seen in awhile:

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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Ben R April 22, 2011 at 4:10 pm

Interesting book to release today with all of the new research coming out about the risks of football, but not a fan of how Miller belittles the risk of the modern game in the of the podcast. Today you have stories of high schoolers getting heat stroke and dying or coming close to it. Each year there are over 60,000 concussions in the high school game, and even then there high schoolers showing brain damage and memory loss despite never being diagnosed with concussions. The reality is football players experience more concussions than boxers. I understand that Teddy did a lot to improve the safety of football, but let’s not dismiss the health risks and problems that are coming up today. Pads can help prevent broken bones and skull cracking, but we are now aware of the damage that is done by rattling your brain on a regular basis and the health risks and should look at ways to fix it.

I would questions whether Teddy Roosevelt would reconsider his position with how dangerous the high school game is getting. I don’t think Teddy ever saw high school teams with 300lbs linesmen being commonplace. Or how the professionalization of the sport has increased the impact of collisions, and again the modern science of concussion. As an avid reader and learner I do not think Teddy would necessarily a support something that hinders a young man’s ability to learn.

2 Rich April 22, 2011 at 4:22 pm

Really cool.

3 Greg K., PA April 23, 2011 at 4:08 pm

I was trying to find some movies about TR and realized just how little there is out there. Though, I did learn that there is a movie about his formative years through the Spanish American War supposedly coming out in 2013 with an $80 million budget called The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt based on a book by Edmund Morris, so that’s exciting. For now, I’ve been making my way through TR’s own oeuvre.

4 Gil April 23, 2011 at 6:06 pm

Teddy was a horrible president and single-handedly brought Progressive-ism to the US, leading to the disaster known as Woodrow Wilson. His try at “managing” wildlife in the first national preserve nearly ended in the decimation of several species of predator and prey alike. Read up on things like the Brownsville Affair to see what type of man he really was. A cool cover and a neat story on football changes nothing.

5 EJ April 23, 2011 at 7:49 pm

I think TR was the greatest President this country ever had or will have for that matter, followed by FDR & Truman, their likes will never be seen again. Leaders that actually care about the average American are all in the grave. Its all about special interests and big corporations. Our leaders are not concerned with our quality of life and its been in decline nationwide for decades. Interesting podcast and the book looks interesting also. Thanks for the information Bret.

6 Jim April 23, 2011 at 9:12 pm

I saw this book online a couple of weeks ago and immediately reserved it at the library, so I was exited to see Brett did a podcast on it.

Although it’s important to occasionally talk politics, I think this discussion should remain on TR’s views on football and the book, otherwise we would be off subject.

Brett: baseball is still America’s favorite pastime, but football is a close second

7 Brett McKay April 23, 2011 at 11:23 pm

Hey Jim-

Thanks for the comment. It’s funny how everything can get political unfortunately.

I do have to disagree with you about baseball being America’s favorite pastime. Football has been beating baseball in TV ratings and attendance for the past few years. I love baseball and it will always be America’s first pastime, especially in our hearts, it’s just not the most popular one anymore.

8 Eric T Lehrling April 24, 2011 at 6:12 am

@Gil- I could not disagree with you more. TR was NOT a progressive, he was a populist. Big difference. I believe you have taken Glen Beck’s “opinion” for fact. Comparison of TR to Wilson is tenuous at best. Because of TR we have 1) National Parks 2) The Panama Canal 3) The world’s most powerful Navy 4) Elimination of overly-powerful monopolies 5) The beginnings of protecting endangered species and protecting certain wildlife areas etc…regarding any “mistakes” he made (according to you) I would argue that you have over 100 years of historical hind-site with which to judge him, he (like all American Presidents) had to make decisions then with the information provided him at that moment. Even if he made a mistake, as judged by today’s standards/evidence, let me remind you that a Senate committee reviewed the Brownsville case and sided with him at that time. Every President makes mistakes, none are/were infallible. TR was, by an overwhelming majority of personal accounts, a great man and one of our most competent Presidents.

9 Steve E April 24, 2011 at 12:28 pm

@Greg K,

I would highly recommend picking up the book you mention, “The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt.” It is quite long, but it goes into great detail about TR and has a wide variety of sources. You really get a feeling of what made him such an amazing man. It is quite a long book, but unlike other history books I have read it is never dry nor boring. The author does a fantastic job telling his story (it won a Pulitzer Prize). The book is actually only part 1 of 3 and goes up until TR became president.


You are obviously entitled to your opinion about TR as a president, but many people, including the majority of U.S. historians would disagree with you.

I do not agree with everything TR did as president. I do think that he overextended his power at times. Despite this I still think he was one of the best presidents this country has ever seen. I don’t know how you question his character. By a majority of accounts TR was idealistic, practiced what he preached, and stood up for what he believed in. He was also notoriously un-corruptible. I think that regardless of his politics this is a man worthy of admiration and a very inspirational figure. I would say the same of his distant cousin FDR even though I disagree with his policies.

10 Dane April 24, 2011 at 2:19 pm

I was amazed to see this! Miller gave a speech at Hillsdale College promoting his book sometime back in October, and has since been hired as director of the impressive Journalism program there as well. Great cover, and best of luck to him.

11 Ben R April 24, 2011 at 9:15 pm

@Gil TR most definitely was a progressive. This is most blatantly seen when he ran as a third party candidate under the Bull Moose Party which was a nickname for the Progressive Party.

12 Kosta Levonowski April 25, 2011 at 2:40 am

@Eric T Lehrling can explain how you feel that tr was not a progressive, as I would love to hear more detail about this one my friend? Not saying I don’t agree with you, but I just find it interesting

13 Bholley April 28, 2011 at 7:47 am

If football went back to the way it was first played with men playing both offense and defense you would not have the 300 lb lineman and you would have less injuries. Plus you would not have those little pussy kickers out there either.

14 jameson May 12, 2011 at 8:46 am

sorry to continue the political thing, but i dont think the progressive were marxist and socialist then, as they are now, albeit on the down low. anyways, i like the bull moose. he was a badass, progressive or not….oh oh, brett, you have done this, but how bout some articles on manly politics? is it possible? manly liberalism? manly conservatism? eh? good topics?

15 jameson May 12, 2011 at 8:48 am

i posit that most politicians are not manly, or they would be able to man up and not spend our tax $ so frivolously. but the bull moose was pretty gosh darned manly, for a man

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