FOOTBALL, of necessity, is a rough and strenuous game; of necessity, because as long as sturdy, eager, striving youths come into direct bodily contact, more or less bumps and bruises and even serious injuries are bound to result.
President Lowell of Harvard says of the game in his 1921 report:
"Although the severity of the injuries suffered and especially the danger to life have been materially diminished by the changes in the rules made a dozen years ago, football remains a rough and strenuous sport in which injuries are often received that impair the efficiency of the players for a couple of weeks or more."
Why then do the authorities of universities tolerate this sport, and parents permit their sons to participate?
It is, of course, easy to understand the popularity of the game with the spectator. Ever and anon, the arenas of contest calling for personal contact of man with man or man with beast, and involving danger and risk of life, have been crowded with frenzied spectators. It is also easy to understand the outward appeal the game has to youth. Even the danger and chance of injury produce a certain fascination which alone furnish football teams with many recruits.
But what do the saner minds of authorities and the more sober minds of parents find in this game to warrant its continuation?
The many reasons lying behind the answer to this question fall into two natural classes; first, the advantages which are peculiar to this sport, and second, the steady progress which has been made in recent years toward minimizing the dangers and eliminating the evils of the game.
As to the latter too much cannot be said of the untiring efforts of the Rules Committee. This Committee has legislated intelligently toward a definite goal - the elimination from the field of play of tactics and practices which all too frequently lead to serious injuries. This is seen in the limitation put upon the use of hands and the barring of pushing and pulling, clipping, piling on, tripping, hurdling, roughing the kicker or passer, etc. These practices often led in the heat of contest to abuse and displays of brutality which besides producing injuries harmed the reputation of the game.
The Rules Committee has constantly endeavored to put the game upon a higher plane of sportsmanship. In this effort to make the intercollegiate games more gentlemanly contests, both coaches and officials have given their hearty cooperation, and it has become generally recognized that contestants can make their supreme effort without transgressing rules of gentlemanly conduct and without necessarily regarding their opponents as contemptuous enemies.
At the same time, as we have seen, there has been a tremendous improvement in the medical and physical handling of the players. The vital necessity of always having at hand a competent medical advisor has been recognized. With it has come a revolution in the attitude of the coaches toward making substitutions with a view to preventing minor injuries from becoming major and avoiding the serious injuries which may result from playing an individual to a state of absolute physical exhaustion. Foolish ideas and traditions of coaches and players as to the disgrace of being removed from the game have given away to the simple and sane decision of a doctor whose sole interest is to prevent serious injury.
So much for the reduction of the chief causes of criticism and complaint.
What then are the advantages, mental, physical, and moral, which overcome objections arising from the possibility of serious injury?
First, it must be remembered that football is almost exclusively an interscholastic and intercollegiate sport. The men who best know and teach football are college men, and for this reason are far better educated than the average coach in other sports. In most cases they are also business or professional men, and quite frequently members of the faculty of a school or college.
Furthermore, the character of the game itself requires that the instructor possess more than average intellectuality. When analyzed, football is nothing more than a somewhat complicated game of human chess. It is a contest of science requiring not only a ready familiarity with the mathematical principles involved, but an ability at the same time to execute physically the necessary manoeuvres when the players are under the greatest possible tension and pressure.
Thus the individual must be taught to think as well as to act, and to do both at high speed, with a consciousness that full responsibility for thinking incorrectly and performing imperfectly is placed upon him by thousands of spectators. Not only this, but he must be taught to repeat this operation time after time when his mind is groggy, his body weary and his whole being in revolt. His will-power must dominate him.
One man lacks the mental calibre, another the physical power or speed, another having both is unable to co-ordinate the two, still another fails under the nervous tension. Few realize how many men are deficient in the power to "carry on" when physical exhaustion sets in, or, to use a homely but apt expression, how many are lacking in "guts." It is the problem of the coach to overcome these failings. Upon his ability to do so depends his success. It is therefore small wonder that the successful coach must himself have a good intellect, a strong personality and a thorough understanding of human nature. Constant association with such a man cannot fail to be beneficial to the average undergraduate.
From an educational standpoint alone, the training received during the football season is more valuable than many of the college courses. The mental gymnastics of mathematical courses give a certain amount of brain development which is lacking in the more general informative courses. Football develops a man in the same way only more so, because the interest of the pupil is intensive and his absorption in the subject more complete. Furthermore, he faces a daily examination on the field of play, an examination unlimited in scope and never ending in its variety. Unless the player's mental lesson is perfect his individual physical prowess wastes itself in faulty application. Because of this the coach detects promptly and accurately the faults in his own instruction, and learns early the necessity of making his instruction simple and direct, eliminating the unessential and presenting the subject in such a manner as to make it clear even to the more stupid members of his squad. The successful coach is generally a skillful teacher, and this fact, combined with the absorbing interest of his subject, permits him to command the attention of the student in such a way as to arouse the envy of many a professor who has observed the same student a few hours earlier stupidly drowsing through a lecture.