Charles Eliot’s entertaining views on sports

In the LARP on Friday, I played Charles William Eliot, who (in the real world) revolutionized Harvard and the American educational system during his 40-year tenure as Harvard's president.

But I failed to provide the entertainment that I ought to have provided by holding forth in character on sports, despite the perfect opportunity handed to me by someone else early on when they asked if I had strong opinions on any particular subjects. It felt slightly too contrived for me to launch into Eliot's sports spiels, so I figured I'd wait for a more natural moment, which never came. Alas!

So I decided to post here about Eliot's views on sports, which are conveniently described in Wikipedia and in a 1906 New York Times article.

For example, he hated football on the grounds that (a) it was too much like war, (b) "the weaker man is considered the legitimate prey of the stronger," and (c) cheating was too easy: "no sport is wholesome in which ungenerous or mean acts which easily escape detection contribute to victory."

That last was also essentially his objection to "basket ball."

He also disliked baseball: "I understand that a curve ball is thrown with a deliberate attempt to deceive. Surely this is not an ability we should want to foster at Harvard." However, he decided not to abolish baseball, because it was too popular.

In fact, there were only two sports he considered acceptable:

Rowing and tennis are the only sports in which honorable play altogether is practiced. You can no more cheat in those two sports than in a game of cards; you would be crowded out of society if you tried.

Finally, there was a quote unrelated to sports that I was hoping to use during the course of the evening, but I didn't find a good place to toss this one in either:

The vulgar conceit that a Yankee can turn his hand to anything we insensibly carry into high places, where it is preposterous and criminal. We are accustomed to seeing men leap from farm or shop to court-room or pulpit, and we half believe that common men can safely use the seven-league boots of genius.

As I commented to Jere7my and Kendra before the game, I want me some of them boots!

2 Responses to “Charles Eliot’s entertaining views on sports”

  1. Vardibidian

    Unlike ordinary seven-league boots, which work on the person wearing them, the seven-league boots of genius work on the person kicked in the head.



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