Walter Camp: Football and the Modern Man

By Julie Des Jardins | Go to book overview

PREGAME COMMENTARY

IN 1910, THIRTEEN-YEAR-OLD James Percy of East Cleveland, Ohio, sent a letter care of Boys Magazine to Walter Camp, the man known throughout the country as the “Father of American Football.” Percy was like other boys on YMCA and high school teams who had written Camp to clarify the definition of a “scrummage,” or a “snap,” or “being held.” One Chicago boy asked if a ball handed forward was considered a pass; in the early years of the game, it was unclear. In Percy’s case, the inquiries were not merely technical; he wanted to know how to train for high school ball. He described himself as “physically weak … more or less what you would term a ‘mollycoddle,’” and he wanted to change his image.1

“Mollycoddle” was a familiar term to any American boy coming of age at the turn of the twentieth century. Bullies used it to terrorize, and President Theodore Roosevelt invoked it to characterize men who had grown soft and “overcivilized” in the industrial age. Males who rejected Roosevelt’s “big stick” diplomacy or his call to live a “strenuous life” were, in his estimation and rhetoric, milksops, sissies, pampered weaklings—effeminate and ineffectual men. Like Percy, they were mollycoddles, unprepared to lead in the modern age.

In his earnest attempt to become stronger and self-reliant, Percy decided to pick up football, a game he had never played a day in his life, but one that was popular all around him. College and high school competition was well established where he lived, so he could have turned to any number of men to teach him its technical aspects. And

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