Gitlin: How Yale came to be

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Photo by David Yu.

“How did Yale come to be?” Consider the following:

1) Elihu Yale (1649-1721), our first important donor and namesake, was a man with a global perspective. The epitaph on his tomb — which I visited this summer in Wales — reads (in part) as follows:

“Born in America, in Europe bred,

In Africa travell’d, and in Asia wed,

Where long he liv’d, and thriv’d; in London dead.”

2) Timothy Dwight IV, President of Yale from 1795 to 1817, noted that both Harvard and Columbia were located in thriving cities. Yale, located in the peaceful state of Connecticut, must, to achieve greatness, encourage its faculty and students to answer to the nation at large.

3) Yale may have been founded in 1701, but it became a national brand-name from 1880 to 1920 when every high school student in the country hung a Yale pennant on their wall and read books about Frank Merriwell and Dink Stover. Yale became a national brand-name at precisely the same time that modern advertising emerged in the United States and other brand names such as Jell-O and Quaker Oats first acquired commercial clout.

And what was it that provided this amplification of the Yale name? How did this venerable institution become so instantly recognizable? Football, my friends. We invented the modern game of college football. Well, you and I didn’t. Walter Camp did. That’s right. It started here.

As my former student Steve Barrows ’02 noted in his senior essay, “The Packaging Power of the Pigskin: Football at Yale and the Evolution of the Ivy League, 1872 to 1954,” Camp’s innovations included the scrimmage rule, the point-scoring scale, and having 11 players on a side.

He publicized the game by writing 20 novels and an endless stream of articles in newspapers and magazines. He even coined the phrase and invented the concept of the All-American team in 1889 — a great “promotional gimmick,” in Steve’s words. Yalies became football missionaries, establishing programs throughout the Midwest and coaching teams at Army and Navy, Dartmouth and Penn, Auburn and Southern California.

We even pioneered corruption in the form of so-called “tramp” athletes or ringers.

The 1904 Yale captain, James Hogan, received free tuition, room and board, a ten-day vacation to Cuba, and “the exclusive commission to handle the products of the American Tobacco Company on the Yale campus.” (See Benjamin Rader, American Sports, 137 — what, you thought I could write this without having a footnote?) Yale-Princeton games were played on Thanksgiving Day in New York City and merited front-page coverage in the New York World. College football became big news and big business. The Yale bulldog became our trade character, the “Y” our trademark. Yale was America’s first college football dynasty. From 1872 to 1909, Yale outscored its opponents 9,814 to 545.

There it is — and thus, we see the origins of the expression — “For God, For Country, For Football, and For Yale”

Did I get that right? If not, consider this: it’s late and I need sleep. Dare to be great. Don’t die in London. Watch Monday Night Football. Go Blue. Harvard still sucks. Just ask the students who go there.

Jay Gitlin ’71 is a professor of history.

Comments

  • The Anti-Yale

    **Football made Yale famous; and, football spread brain injuries around the world in glorious fields of male weaponless combat:
    Thanks Walter; Thanks Yale**

    **PK**

    ***Football brain injuries ‘an epidemic’***

    ***Not only NFL; players from youth to college are at risk as well***
    CHRIS HENRY study
    June 29, 2010|By Chuck Finder, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

    (06-28) 18:22 PDT *— The brain of the late Cincinnati Bengals receiver Chris Henry contained so many signs of chronic disease – sludge, tangles and threads associated with late-in-life dementia or Alzheimer’s – that it shows a football player can sustain life-altering head trauma without ever being diagnosed with a concussion.
    The brain damage might have contributed to Henry’s troubled behavior and, ultimately, his death in December at age 26.
    These conclusions, among others following tissue study by scientists affiliated with West Virginia University, make Henry the first active National Football League player to be discovered suffering from the progressive generative disease known as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE.*

  • The Anti-Yale

    PS

    “Weaponless” unless you consider the cranium a “weapon”.

    PK
    [link text][1]

    [1]: http://theantiyale.blogspot.com “HAPPY BIRTHDAY BULLDOG BRAIN BASHERS”

  • RexMottram08

    Hear hear! Sons of Eli! Break through the line! March down the field!

  • Goldie08

    This was a cool little piece – gave me a boost of Yale pride in the morning.

    Paul Keane, must you inject controversy into everything? Anyone that knows anything about football knows that players in Camp’s day played without helmets, causing players to be more careful in avoiding injuries to their heads. Tackles were made by wrapping players up and dragging them to the ground, not by flying headfirst tackles. As helmet technology permeated the game and grew increasingly more advanced, players became more cavalier in their tackling, believing themselves better protected.

    Your comment raises a necessary point, but why bring it up here? Why not in my brother’s article last week in the sports section that was written about this very point? RexMottram’s response is much more appropriate for a bit of light, enjoyable reading like this column and what I hope most Elis feel after reading Professor Gitlin’s column.

    If you just want to rouse rabble on the comment boards, why didn’t you criticize old Elihu – a known slaveowner? That was the low-hanging fruit for the protest crowd.

  • The Anti-Yale

    “*Your comment raises a necessary point, but why bring it up here? Why not in my brother’s article last week in the sports section that was written about this very point?*”

    Goldie08:

    I don’t read sports articles. Ever.

    Camp’s invention may have been harmless, but it has become insidiously harmful and uniquitous.

    As for Yale’s *Strange Fruit*: I have recommended in these posts that reparations for Yale’s slave exploitation include returning the Yale buildings which slaves built. But the only problem is: TO WHOM?)

    PK

  • The Anti-Yale

    that should read “ubiquitous”, although I like the neologism created by my typo; “uniquitous” (uniquely iniquitous and ubiquitous).

  • FailBoat

    > I don’t read sports articles. Ever.

    And the intellectual snobbery emerges.

  • robert99

    Why isn’t this guy PK in the White House?

  • The Anti-Yale

    FB:

    Hardly intellectual snobbery.

    I may be 6’2″ tall and weigh 195 lbs, BUT I have never been able to throw or catch a ball of any sort correctly; hence, my indifference to — if not envy of — the world of sports.

    BTW (and to their eternal posthumous SHAME I hope) I never had a GYM TEACHER who bothered to help me overcome my incapacity–or even encouraged me to do so (not even for one SECOND) in twelve years in public school. For shame Hamden School System !

    I spent the first 2 weeks of my life in an incubator at what is now Yale-New Haven Hospital as a pre-mature baby. I suspect those bodily-kinesthetic neurons never got hooked up.

    However I can still push a lawnmower up Vermont hills for 8-hours a week at 66, so it ain’t muscle power.

    PK

  • mrmike527

    Anti-Yale-
    Unfortunately, because by your own admission you never read sports articles, you are completely uninformed about the origins of football and safety it actually brought to athletics. East Coast universities developed football as a safer version of rugby games that were being played at the time. Teddy Roosevelt even threatened to outlaw the type of rugby that was being played because so many people were dying in games. Football was a far safer sport than the alternative at the time, and that probably was a big factor in Camp’s efforts to spread it around the country. He saved lives in his time by increasing the popularity of a high contact game played in pads as opposed to one played without.

  • The Anti-Yale

    You’re right. I don’t read sports. But I do read NEWS. And it has been news that brain injuries due to playing football have been vastly under-recognized until recently. Were their other more dangerous sports predecing football? You say so, so I’ll take your word for it. **However past dangers reduced do not nullify present dangers rampant.**

    My concern is for the kids being sucked into danger by the gladiatorial glamour of the uniforms and the cheering Roman masses.

    PK

    *AGAIN:
    *Football brain injuries ‘an epidemic’
    Not only NFL; players from youth to college are at risk as well CHRIS HENRY study
    June 29, 2010
    |By Chuck Finder, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
    (06-28) 18:22 PDT — The brain of the late Cincinnati Bengals receiver Chris Henry contained so many signs of chronic disease – sludge, tangles and threads associated with late-in-life dementia or Alzheimer’s – that it shows a football player can sustain life-altering head trauma without ever being diagnosed with a concussion. The brain damage might have contributed to Henry’s troubled behavior and, ultimately, his death in December at age 26. These conclusions, among others following tissue study by scientists affiliated with West Virginia University, make Henry the first active National Football League player to be discovered suffering from the progressive generative disease known as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE.**