Book Review of The Big Scrum

1002 words | 4 page(s)

Published in 2011, The Big Scrum: How Teddy Roosevelt Saved Football was written by John J. Miller and published by Harper Collins. The main theme of the book is how football, a sport that is has adoring fans, collects the most funds and attention in the world was always a rough game. The President, however, saved the sport from being banished or at least severely restricted after a string of brutality that ruffled the feathers of many progressive movements. The nation, on the heels of industrialization, wanted to banish the sport because of the physical injuries and the shocking nature of those, but Theodore Roosevelt would not yield. He stepped in, called a meeting and his influence established the founding of the NCAA. Obviously this had a major impact on sports culture and the modern associations with such. The book is well written and very interesting, not only as a reflection of the progressive era that held the nation in thrall, but a balancing act at how something that has become an accepted and revered institution in our society developed. Also, that the President had to step in. Fascinating. A pretty terrific story.

The main aspects of the book explain Roosevelt as a child and how he could not partake in football because he wore glasses although he embraced the sporting life. Despite the fact Roosevelt could not participate himself, he thoroughly enjoyed the sport and thought through the way the game was played, it transformed children into adults. The physicality, rules and stringency molded men. Roosevelt believed the sport was relevant and important not only for his personal pleasure, but as a model for what society could take from the sport. Many institutions, most notably Harvard University, decided to desist from the playing the game due to the injuries and the horrific nature of them. Roosevelt was resolute in spite of the fact he realized the way the game was played needed to be altered because of the injuries. Therefore, he set out to do so and paved the way for the ‘American past time’ and the future of the game that holds the nation in thrall.

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Miller is an excellent author and he has an outstanding story to work with. Especially since the talk in recent years and at the time the book was published was about concussions. This has been a major issue and warranted lawsuits against the NFL by former players that were victorious. Also, several noteworthy players such as Junior Seau committed suicide for unknown reasons that were eventually found to be linked to concussions. The environment for Miller’s creation was outstanding to say the least. He possessed a rapt audience and merely needed to tell the tale, which he did magnificently. How many fans realized the Secretary of State sat in on a meeting to ensure football would still be played but with a set of regulations and rules to adhere to?

Obviously any fan of the sport or of NCAA athletics would be enamored with this novel, but Miller tells the tale very well. His level of research is outstanding and his attention to detail is beyond that. The problem, however, is he often gets caught up in his story as the specifics seem to be explained more than the actual feelings of Roosevelt. The actions are described and the emotion is there but if Roosevelt is the central figure in the book, why is he at times missing? Miller describes more of the inhumane tactics that transpired in the game and football itself for many pages before Roosevelt is infused in the story again. This is after he introduces Roosevelt personally through the illness of his childhood. If the purpose is about Roosevelt feeling the game had enough merit to fight for its institution as an American sport to be enjoyed and to learn lessons from, where was he from the description of the sport’s violence until his stand on cleaning up the game? That is the only major issue with this book.

The character of Roosevelt himself certainly has connections with what was discussed in class material. Although the progressive era was in full swing and our modern society attempts to address the ills that afflict it, President Obama would never personally intervene in the whether a sport was played or not. Why? Not only because society has advanced or changed since those times, but president’s role has been defined. Was it really within Roosevelt’s powers to determine whether football survived or failed? Why should a president wield that much power?

Granted the era was so vastly different from what the world now is involved in. Presidents don’t sweep in to save the sport and progressive politics are not anywhere near what they were at the time. The world was modernizing rapidly from the Industrial Revolution and were seeking measures to address all forms of injustice. That is where nearly all of our modern legislation and that of the New Deal from the Great Depression instituted by another Roosevelt stems. However, the president cannot just step in and wave a wand or cover it by calling a conference when it comes to sports.

Roosevelt certainly was a product of time and his role in ‘saving football’ is an example of that. Would the sport truly have died? Horse racing and boxing were just as brutal, if not more so than football, but they did not curry the favor of the president. So is that the only reason football is so popular? Because the president battled until it was so? Was his favorite sport forced upon America? There are shades of truth of truth to that and Miller’s book does add fuel to the fire of though in regards to the power of the presidency at that time. Does Roosevelt force a sport he loved upon the world because of his position and emotion? Or should he be honored for ‘cleaning up the sport’? It’s an intriguing question.

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