This article is part of The Nation’s 150th Anniversary Special Issue. Download a free PDF of the issue, with articles by James Baldwin, Barbara Ehrenreich, Toni Morrison, Howard Zinn and many more, here.


Excerpted from the November 29, 1894 Issue

The critics of football last year, although much abused, had sufficient influence on the amateurs of the game to bring about a change in the rules. But the new football appears to be very like the new Tammany: “Plus on change, plus c’est la même chose.” The game on Saturday at Springfield between the two great teams of Harvard and Yale was by the testimony—unanimous, as far as our knowledge goes—of spectators and newspapers, the most brutal ever witnessed in the United States.

We respectfully ask the governing bodies of all colleges what they have to say for a game between youths presumably engaged in the cultivation of the liberal arts, which needs among its preliminaries a supply on the field of litters and surgeons? Such preparations are not only brutal but brutalizing. How any spectator, especially any woman, can witness them without a shudder, so distinctly do they recall the dueling field and the prize-ring, we are unable to understand. But that they are necessary and proper under the circumstances the result showed. There were actually seven casualties among twenty-two men who began the game. What has American culture and civilization to say to this mode of training our youth?

It may be laid down as a sound rule among civilized people, that games which may be won by disabling your adversary, or wearing out his strength, or killing him, ought to be prohibited, at all events among its youth. Swiftness of foot, skill and agility, quickness of sight, and cunning of hands, are things to be encouraged in education. The hurling of masses of highly trained athletes against one another with intent to overcome by mere weight or kicking or cuffing, without the possibility of the rigid superintendence which the referee exercises in the prize-ring, cannot fail to blunt the sensibilities of young men, stimulate their bad passions, and drown their sense of fairness. When this is done in the sight of thousands, under the stimulation of their frantic cheers and encouragement, and in full view of the stretchers which carry their fellows from the field, for aught they know, disabled for life, how, in the name of common sense, does it differ in moral influence from the Roman arena?

Help from the colleges in ending this great scandal does not seem easy to get, so keen is the competition for students, and so powerful the influence of football victories on youthful minds. We must therefore appeal to American parents to keep their sons out of the game as long as it is anything more than one of swiftness and agility.