Monday, October 12, 2015

Julie Des Jardins's "Walter Camp: Football and the Modern Man"

Julie Des Jardins has a Ph.D. in American history from Brown University and has taught at Harvard, Macalester, Simmons, and the City University of New York. She is a professor of history who writes books on American gender, including Walter Camp: Football and the Modern Man (Oxford, 2015), Lillian Gilbreth: Redefining Domesticity (Westview, 2012), The Madame Curie Complex: The Hidden History of Women in Science (Feminist Press, 2010), and Women and the Historical Enterprise in America: Gender, Race, and the Politics of Memory (UNC, 2003).

Des Jardins applied the “Page 99 Test” to Walter Camp: Football and the Modern Man and reported the following:
Most of page 99 of Walter Camp: Football and the Modern Man is the opening act of a chapter called “Necessary Roughness?” It’s a conversation borrowed from Tim Cohane’s Yale Football Story, between an upperclassman on the squad of 1891 and a freshman named Wally Winter, who dreams of making the varsity eleven. When Winter gets to the practice field, an upperclassman socks him in the face; his response is to deliver a retaliatory blow. The coach kicks him off the practice field, telling him never to show his face again—that is, until upperclassmen whisk him away to an interrogation room on campus. The team captain, speaks for the group:
“Know anything about football?”

“No, sir,” Winter replies.

“Know how to box?”

“Yes sir—some.”

“What do you weigh?”

“One seventy-eight, sir.”

“Did you slug a man on the field this afternoon?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Who was he?”

“I don’t know, sir.”

“Why did you slug him?”

“Because he slugged me—twice, sir.”

“Where did you hit him.”

“On the chin, sir.”

“How often?”

“Once, sir.”

“Don’t you know any better than to slug a man on the football field?”

“I do now, sir.”

“Are you sorry?”

“No, sir.”

“Well, you ought to be sorry. Let me tell you one thing—don’t you ever let me hear of you slugging on the field—never. And tomorrow you come out with the varsity. Good night.”
If the upperclassman seems to speak out of both sides of his mouth, he is only echoing his mentor Walter Camp, arguably the man responsible for bringing both honor and brutality to American football. Contradictions in the culture Camp creates rear their head throughout the book (including growing strains of professionalism in his supposed “amateur” sport), forming the foundations of a sporting culture that still are with us today.

Camp never admitted to seeing contradiction, of course, just balance: A certain amount of physical risk in football is man-making, he insisted; only extreme violence turned man-breaking. He failed to recognize that his sense of the extreme was, perhaps, extreme. As the decided “Father of Football,” he liked to think that he calibrated his game to provide just enough physical danger to turn American males tough and hence effective in the modern age. I tell his story to reveal to Americans, who have only known his man-making narrative in their lifetimes, that what has come down to us as truisms about the nature of American males and football is man-made mythology itself.
Visit Julie Des Jardins's website.

--Marshal Zeringue