General Participation in Athletics.
[We invite all men in the University to submit communications on subjects of timely interest. The CRIMSON is not, however, responsible for the sentiments expressed in such communications as may be printed.]
To the Editors of the CRIMSON:
One of the Paris newspapers which is not always a paragon of truth says the students at Harvard are going to take up Association football. May I say something in its favor? It is not a gruelling, prize-fighting game, nor is it one especially adapted for blacksmiths, stevedores or life-guardsmen. Nor is it particularly famous for shouldering, shoving, hauling, kneeing and mass-plays. Nor is it played by men in buckram, so padded and protected that the players' grandmothers cannot look at them without a shudder. But it is football, and the kind where the player punishes the ball and not the man. And a man can play it successfully without any strain upon his sense of fair-play or honesty and without any danger of being tempted to forget he is a gentleman. The ball is always in sight and so is the player. It is a spectacular game. It is one where good individual play counts, and not one where the whole team is, like a chain, no stronger than its weakest link. There is, to be sure, little chance for grand, strategy; but the object is not, as in war, to exhaust the other side.
I happened to spend the autumn of 1893 in Oxford; and there was no afternoon, unless it rained, when a dozen or so of these games were not in progress between the different colleges. And it was a treat to go from field to field and watch them. Nor was this the only game in vogue. There were as many games of Rugby, for each college has a team in each or tries to have. This, too, is a game in which men who are light upon their feet and have not a quarter of a ton of beef and brawn to their credit can play. Oxford men seem to think that nature has given something to men of medium weight, men of 160 pounds or thereabouts, which is the ideal weight for an oarsman or an all round athlete. Nor were these two all the games in progress. There were teams playing hockey, lacrosse and other games, and tennis and cricket in their season. It is a fine sight to see the men pour out from the different college gates at about two o'clock on every afternoon, dressed a little more than Adam was when he left the garden of Eden. There are perhaps two thousand of them on their way to their different sports. At Oxford no man sits and sucks his thumbs. No man trusts to his eyes and ears and lungs for exercise. Every man plays something. If he can't get a chance to play once game he plays another. He has been brought up in schools where play is a part of the education. Every boy at Eton, Harrow, Rugby, Winchester and Westminster is compelled to play something. If he is as small as young Nehemiah and has not push enough and enterprise to set him self at work there are tutors whose business it is to teach him some game and see that he plays it. He is not led away to be stuffed with botany, geology, astronomy or metaphysics, but a cricket bat, a tennis racket, a football, an car, is put into his hands and he is taught to use it. And, then, when he comes to the university he has formed a habit and continues to follow his bent. The French boy studies or plays marbles in the streets; the German boy promenades the streets in droves, although now less than he used to do; but the English boy plays games of afternoons. What a blessing it would be if the lookers on could be shoved out of the Stadium and set to work at some game! How much better they would like it! It is not from choice that they keep their seats.
A quarter of the men at Oxford row or teach the novices to row. Four or five hundred of them go to the river every afternoon although the Isis is hardly wide enough for a good throw with a cat and hardly deep enough to drown her. Let no Anglophobia persuade us to despise a good game because it is English. We ought to be willing to learn of the Patagonians if they can teach us. There are hundreds of men in our dear University who are tired of the fun of watching star players. How did Theodore Roosevelt take his exercise? How did he first attract public notice? By boxing. And yet he was no heavy-weight, and was embarassed with eye-glasses. But he had science and could take his punishment, and a lot of it, and that, too, Without squirming. Any men who saw that about is not likely to forget it.
Yale beats us at the game of corralling giants. Is there no game for ordinary mortals to play? Must they forever sit and warm the bleachers? Must they forever simply sing and cheer? Did God really put all the brain, nerve, heart, skill, adroitness, quickness worth cultivating into Polyphemus? Has not this idolatry of burly Sullivans, and Wooly Goliaths game far enough? Why does this good old game of football languish in America? Why does good old Rugby languish? Why do not the men who pine upon the bleachers take this up and make it popular? It is a better game in some respects and less brutal than its American brother. It is less sure to maim and kill. But there is room enough for all of them. CHARLES G. FALL, '68, Venice, December 6, 1904