The Big Scrum: How Teddy Roosevelt Saved Football


A stalemate between owners and players that threatens the upcoming NFL season and the widening scandal that forced beloved Ohio State University coach Jim Tressel to resign in disgrace are only the most recent reminders that football has always provoked a huge amount of controversy.

In the early 20th century, football was a literal bloodsport, writes John J. Miller in his new book The Big Scrum. After a series of game-related deaths, President Teddy Roosevelt called together the presidents of the three biggest football colleges (Harvard, Yale, and Princeton—yes, a very different America) and jawboned them into cleaning up the game to stave off legislative attempts to ban it outright.

The result, says Miller, was the creation of the distinctively American game football featuring forward passes, quarterbacks, spread offenses, and more.

The author of several books including the historical novel The First Assassin, Miller writes for National Review and is the new director of the journalism program at Hillsdale College. For more information about Miller, including links to his popular podcast series, go here.

Miller sat down with Reason's Nick Gillespie to talk about The Big Scrum, the scandal-ridden history of college football, and exactly what budding journalists need to learn in college (hint: it's not journalism).

About 6.31 minutes.

Shot by Jim Epstein, Meredith Bragg, and Josh Swain, who edited the piece.

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