To a handful of colleagues, Walter Camp was a clock-company executive. To nearly everyone else, he was the quintessential gentleman athlete and the Father of American Football. Born in Connecticut in 1859, he attended Yale University just as collegiate sport was growing organized and competitive in the United States. In college, he was a varsity letterman who led the earliest efforts to codify the rules of football and to make it distinct from English rugby. As the creator of the All-America football team and the writer of some of the first football fiction, guides, and sports page coverage, Camp popularized the game like other. For four decades, he was the most influential regulator in college football, making him the target of charges that the game was too brutal. Under his watch, dozens of college and high school players were killed or maimed on the gridiron. President Theodore Roosevelt urged him to reform football to prevent administrators from banning it, but Camp was ambivalent about removing the very physicality from the game that made it man-making in his eyes. Although he made his greatest contributions to football, he also had a hand in developing college baseball, crew, and track and field, as well as amateur boxing, tennis, and Olympic teams, making him one the nation's foremost propagators of amateur sport. The greatest proof of his contention that athletics, football especially, cultivated effective, courageous men came in World War I, when massive numbers of college football players enlisted for military service and the Allies defeated the Germans; Camp insisted that American athleticism was the reason. Along with cultivating his own body, he popularized strength training and the ideal of the muscular physique for American boys, helping to redefine the ideal man of modern times.
Julie Des Jardins is the author of The Madame Curie Complex, Lillian Gilbreth: Redefining Domesticity, and Women and the Historical Enterprise in America: Gender, Race, and the Politics of Memory.