Julie Des JardinsWalter Camp: Football and the Modern Man

Oxford University Press, 2015

by Bruce Berglund on February 6, 2016

Julie Des Jardins

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In anticipation of Super Bowl 50, Sports Illustrated and WIRED magazines teamed up to speculate about the state of football fifty years from now, at the time of Super Bowl 100. Of course, the big question that arises when considering the future of the football is whether the sport will even exist decades from now, given the evidence of severe brain disease in many former players. Historian Julie Des Jardins argues that if we want to gain a better understanding of the current challenges to football, it's best to look back to its early decades. Football had its critics from the very beginning, when young men were severely injured and even killed on the field. The sport had to reform itself to survive. As Julie shows in her new biography of legendary Yale coach Walter Camp, even the founding father of American football recognized that change was necessary for the game to continue.

In Walter Camp: Football and the Modern Man (Oxford University Press, 2015), Julie presents the first scholarly biography of the man who devised the rules that distinguished American football from its English forebears, rugby and soccer. For decades, from the 1880s until his death in 1925, he was a leading figure in shaping how the game was played as well as the broader culture of football. A self-made man of unfailing character, Camp saw football as the ideal exercise for training young men of courage and morality. At the same time, he understood the need to adapt his convictions; Camp named non-white players to his All-America team, and he came to accept professional football as a legitimate option for players leaving college. Camp always insisted that physical violence was the incontestable core of football, but he also recognized the changes of the times and held that football had to meet them.

A transcribed excerpt of the interview is available at The Allrounder.

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