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The intriguing, never-before-fully-told story of how Theodore Roosevelt helped tosave the game that would become America’s most popular sport.

In its infancy during the late nineteenth century,the game of football was still a work in progress thatonly remotely resembled the sport millions followtoday. There was no common agreement about many ofthe game’s basic rules, and it was incredibly violent andextremely dangerous. An American version of rugby, thisnew game grew popular even as the number of casualtiesrose. Numerous young men were badly injured and dozensdied playing football in highly publicized incidents, oftenat America’s top prep schools and colleges.

Objecting to the sport’s brutality, a movement ofproto-Progressives led by Harvard University presidentCharles W. Eliot tried to abolish the game. PresidentTheodore Roosevelt, a vocal advocate of “the strenuouslife” and a proponent of risk, acknowledged football’sdangers but admired its potential for building character.A longtime fan of the game who purposely recruited menwith college football experience for his Rough Riders,Roosevelt fought to preserve the game’s manly essence,even as he understood the need for reform.

In 1905, he summoned the coaches of Harvard, Yale,and Princeton to the White House and urged them to act.The result was the establishment of the National CollegiateAthletic Association, as well as a series of rule changes—including the advent of the forward pass—that ultimatelysaved football and transformed it into the quintessentialAmerican game. The Big Scrum reveals for the first timethe fascinating details of this little-known story of sportshistory.

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