RFK: A Legacy in His Own Right

Robert F. Kennedy CLASS OF 1948

Robert F. Kennedy '48 is remembered by most as an attorney general, senator or presidential candidate, but some also remember him as a Harvard student and football player.

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend '73, Robert and Ethel Kennedy's eldest daughter, remembers her father telling stories about his athletic feats--such as they were--in his college days.

Townsend, now lieutenant governor of Maryland, says her father was especially proud of his senior year on the football team. Kennedy had broken his leg in a game during the season, but he still wanted to play.

"In order to get your letter you had to play in The Harvard-Yale Game. His coach finally put him in and he got his letter. He was proud of that," Townsend says.

Senator Edward M. Kennedy '54-'56 (D-Mass.) says his brother's efforts on the field indicated the determination which would mark his later career.

"He was not the typical size to make the Harvard football team, but after the practices he would go back to the field," Kennedy says. "He would keep on throwing the football and working on his technique and plays until he could master them. He made the team and earned his letter."

Kennedy says his brother was incredibly devoted to his team and a hard-working player.

"Loyalty and courage were the traits he admired most and exhibited himself," Kennedy says. "He showed that in his love and devotion to his family and his support for his friends and teammates--even if it meant playing when he had badly injured his leg."

In fact, Robert Kennedy even returned to play for his brother's team in Winthrop House's 1953 game against Yale's Davenport College.

"He flew up from Washington after he graduated," Sen. Kennedy said. "We knew we stood a chance of winning if Bobby was our ringer. He played and we won."

But Robert Kennedy's commitment to football, at least at the time, overshadowed his commitment to academics. Biographer Jack Newfield quotes Kennedy as confessing that he did not do much studying while at Harvard.

"To tell the truth, I didn't go to class very much," Kennedy says in Robert Kennedy: A Memoir. "I used to talk and argue a lot, mostly about sports and politics. I began thinking about issues about the time I went to college."

From Football Player to Presidential Candidate

Kennedy began his career as a Middle East correspondent for the Boston Post, but it was in law and politics, not journalism, that he made his mark.

Kennedy first came to the public's attention when he took the bold step of prosecuting numerous figures involved in organized crime, including the notorious Jimmy Hoffa.

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