Walter Camp: Football and the Modern Man

By Julie Des Jardins | Go to book overview

Postgame Analysis

THIS PORTRAIT OF THE “Father of Football” depicts a man against a backdrop of cultural crisis—crisis not always acknowledged or understood, but glaringly apparent in hindsight. It was a crisis of identity in white, Protestant men who once held dominion in American life but sensed cultural change coming. As women gained ground in higher education, paid work, and the political sphere, Camp reoriented the figurative playing field on which men and women competed in public life, and he did it by creating a physical playing field on elite college campuses where only men had access and their greater heft mattered here as nowhere else. In his rhetoric, female football spectators maintained the gender status quo by acting like helpless damsels or gridiron mothers who fawned over their warriors and yet recognized that they lacked the physical courage or size to emulate them.

The gridiron, as psychic and literal turf, was one of the few spaces left in the public sphere that Camp could designate as truly male. His definition of manhood, rooted in the physically powerful body, offset fears of emasculation in white American men, creating boundaries that women likely could never cross. And yet, for many minority and working-class men, this definition of manhood, rooted in the athletic physique, was not a boundary but rather an advantage in the end.

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