The president who saved football

Theodore Roosevelt was the 26th U.S. president and was given credit for turning the rules of football into what it is today. | Courtesy of Crisco1492/Wikimedia Commons

Safety in football has become a major concern since the turn of the new millennium due to an increased awareness of the effects of concussions.

This isn’t the first time in football’s history that the sport has come under fire because of issues with its players’ protection, though.

When football was created in the mid-1800s, it resembled rugby and soccer and not the sport we know it as today. Forward passes were not allowed, pads and helmets were not required or even really existed, late hits were commonplace and the ball was more circular than its present-day counterpart.

On defense, almost every player would stack the line of scrimmage since forward passes were not allowed, so there was no need to spread offenses. In fact, the wide receiver position wasn’t created until after the 1905 college season (professional football, namely the NFL, did not exist until 1920).

The creation of the wide receiver was just one of many changes that were made to the game following that season.

The reason for the adjustments to the game came after that 1905 season in what was arguably the deadliest year in football history. Nineteen people died while playing football in 1905 due to spinal injuries, concussions, internal hemorrhaging and other injuries, and a total of 45 players had died since the start of the 1900 season.

Most of the deaths and injuries occurred after a ball carrier had been tackled. It was common for opposing players to kick and step on the player on the ground.

Public outcry grew louder as the death toll continued to increase, and it wasn’t until then-President Theodore Roosevelt’s son, Theodore Roosevelt Jr., was injured during a game that someone stepped in.

Although Roosevelt Jr.’s injury only required stitches above his eye, the elder Roosevelt came to the conclusion that football needed to be reformed from its barbaric roots.

President Roosevelt was an avid football fan and did not want to see the sport that he loved disappear.

During that time, the Ivy League schools were some of the best in the nation at football, and as a Harvard graduate, Roosevelt called upon his alma mater’s coach and the other elite university coaches and athletic advisers to attend a conference to improve the rules of football.

Roosevelt, along with Harvard head coach William T. Reid and the United States Naval Academy’s head coach, Paul Dashiell, formed a committee following the 1905 season that modified the rules of the game.

One of the biggest changes that was introduced to the game allowed teams to make forward passes, which in turn created the receiver position. The offense was able to operate with more room by granting them the opportunity to make a forward pass and forced defenses to spread out.

As defensive players were dispersed all over the field, it helped to minimize the logjam at the line of scrimmage that was created before, which actually helped to prevent serious injury.

Without the actions of Roosevelt, there is a chance that fans would have eventually abolished the game for its unnecessary violence, and football would not exist today.