On the aftermost day of the 1905 academy football season, Harvard hosted Yale in the 26th activity amid the two teams. At one point in the about low-scoring affair, Harvard’s Francis Burr trotted aback to acknowledgment a punt. As the brawl fluttered through the air, Burr alleged for a fair catch. Afresh things got ugly, as things generally did in those days. Afterwards all, this was the year of what the Chicago Tribune alleged academy football’s “death harvest.”
Two Yale defenders bore bottomward on the abandoned Burr, one of whom, Jim Quill, punched him in the face, ballyhoo his nose. The added player, according to John Sayle Watterson’s Academy Football: History, Spectacle, Controversy, citation a bi-weekly accounts, “delivered a anatomy draft with his anxiety which agape Burr ‘senseless.'” That sounds an abominable lot like a drop-kick. No abhorrent was alleged on the play.
In his book, Watterson questioned the objectivity of the referee, Paul Dashiell, who as armchair of the Intercollegiate Football Rules Committee had ties to allegorical Yalie Walter Camp, the alleged “Father of American Football” and the columnist of an anniversary rules guide. This may able-bodied accept been true. But according to Ken Crippen, controlling administrator of the Able Football Researchers Association, the adjudicator still alleged the comedy correctly. “There was annihilation adage you couldn’t drop-kick or bite or annihilation like that,” Crippen told me. “It was one of those things where, as a gentleman, you wouldn’t do that. But they didn’t abode annihilation specific into the rules that you couldn’t drop-kick a player.”
Such was football in 1905 that the drop-kicking of Francis Burr wasn’t alike the affliction affair to appear on that Nov. 25. Three players died that day. In a d adjoin New York University, halfback Harold Moore of Union Academy approved to “buck the line,” in the words of the The St. Louis Republic. He was agape benumbed by a draft to the arch and died six hours afterwards from a bookish hemorrhage. He was 19.
In Sedalia, Mo., 16-year-old Robert Brown was authoritative a “run about the end,” or what we would apperceive as an off-tackle run, aback he was tackled and “thrown heavily aloft the ground, accession on his aing and amateur … bedridden from the aing down.” He died afterwards regaining consciousness, according to the Mexico Missouri Message.
Several hundred afar abroad in Rockville, Ind., Carl Osborne of Marshall Aerial Academy was asleep instantly aback a burst rib punctured his heart, according to The St. Louis Republic.
You’ll see altered abstracts cited for the cardinal of football deaths of 1905. Were there 13? Eighteen? Nineteen? Twenty-one? To the bodies invoking it, the exact cardinal doesn’t amount so abundant as its abode to be apprenticed into annual of any argument. Sometimes, the amount is acclimated to advance that football is inherently alarming no amount what anyone does about it. Sometimes, it’s acclimated to prove that football can acclimate afterwards a crisis.
But if the cardinal of deaths charcoal a advantageous and adaptable actuality alike now, 109 years later, the deaths themselves accept been forgotten. How absolutely did 18 football players—or 19 or 13 or 21—die in 1905?
Even admitting we alarm it by the aforementioned name, football was a altered action in those days. Best obviously, there was no advanced pass. The best accepted comedy featured the aerial wedge, a accumulation whose aftermost vestiges—remember the comedy on kickoffs, the one with those fat bodies captivation calmly and beating a single, abate guy active downfield?—were addled from the pro d a few years ago. In the wedge’s affiliated form, players would alpha a few yards abaft the band of flat and afresh commence on a array of rolling alternation wreck. As Crippen explained to me, “They knew it would be effective. If you would run up the middle, afresh you would aloof bang them as adamantine as you possibly can in adjustment to try and accretion as abundant yardage as possible.” As for padding, there was none. This was afore covering helmets, afore abecedarian pads, afore everything. The best you would see would be the accidental adenoids bouncer or hat.
Games were 70 annual long; players would booty allotment in about every play; there was no aloof breadth amid the abhorrent and arresting line; and aback you bare alone bristles yards for a aboriginal down, there was beneath allurement to run alfresco the tackles. Teams would strategize to ascendancy control by bowling their way forward, inch by inch, backyard by yard, bite by punch.
It was an animal game. Bristles weeks afore Yale-Harvard, Admiral Teddy Roosevelt summoned a accumulation of football assembly from Harvard, Yale, and Princeton to abode the growing apropos of atrocity in football. A columnist absolution went out, in which the universities’ corresponding coaches promised to accept by the codification rules of the game, admitting it wasn’t abundant of a promise. Alike then, the admiral from Yale denied alive annihilation about bluffing in academy football.
The aboriginal afterlife of the 1905 division occurred during convenance on Oct. 9 at Hampden-Sydney College, aback Howard Montgomery was bedridden in the lower anatomy and died as a aftereffect of agnate injuries. Ten added deaths were appear in a agnate fashion: Someone suffered an abrasion while arena football, and afresh he died. James Bryant, 17, of Cañon City, Colo., fell on his back, and aback the accumulation of players was pulled off him, he was dead.
On Nov. 4 at Oak Park Aerial in Chicago, Vernon Wise was authoritative a accouterment aback he was addled in the accessory and aback by an opposing player, and accustomed “internal injuries,” from which he died. Two canicule afterwards in San Jose, Clarence Von Bokkelen had his skull burst and died hours later. The ages was angled out aback Randall McLeod of Hampton Aerial in Marshalltown, Iowa, had his belly ruptured, and G.C. Ficken, a fullback in New Orleans was addled on the arch in a flat and died afterwards regaining consciousness.
There were two football deaths in December, from injuries incurred in beforehand games. Arthur Roote of Salem, Mass., alone 13 years old, suffered “internal injuries” and died in the Salem hospital on Dec. 3. Addition New England afterlife occurred on Dec. 7 in Bridgeport, Conn., aback Leo McNally died of a burst aback he suffered on Thanksgiving Day.
These are the 11 accepted deaths that resulted anon from a football injury. If annihilation else, they advance that the d has gotten safer at a faster amount than it has gotten bigger and faster. The added appear deaths, however, are breadth things get weird.
Twenty-seven-year-old John Dondero of Willimantic, Conn., was by far the oldest football accident of the year. According to The Minneapolis Journal, doctors abhorrent a bookish hemorrhage, “superinduced by the player’s poor concrete action at the time.” It was argued in assorted affidavit beyond the country that Mr. Dondero was too old and too fat to be arena football.
Girls played football in 1905 as well, and they died arena football, too. If you happened to be of the acceptance that aerial girls care not to be arena the band-aid d of football, afresh the afterlife of Miss Bernadette Decker, 18, in Cumberland, Md., was absolute activation for your argument. From the Daily Columnist of Newport News, Va.: “Miss Bernadette Decker … died this morning from a malady akin cancerous peritonitis, due to injuries accustomed in a d of football.”
These two deaths were additionally abundant fodder for football death-deniers. Booty a attending at this commodity in the New-York Tribune, Dec. 4, 1905:
Football suffers added from its accompany than from its enemies. Eighteen of the deaths referred to were those of bald boys, all of them beneath eighteen years. Football is a man’s game, the best arduous action that we know. It is fit alone for players who are absolutely complete in wind and in limb, and who accept accustomed at concrete ability so far as advance is concerned….one of the deaths ascribed to in this allegation of football as due to the d is that of a millihand [sic] who went into a bout appropriate from assignment [Dondero] … addition is that of a Maryland girl. Anticipate of that! And football takes the blame. Absolutely it is absolutely too antic for words.
Quite too antic for words indeed, sir.
The cardboard additionally declared that “Miss Decker’s case baffled four physicians, who were consistently in attendance.” Medically speaking, her ysis makes little sense. Peritonitis is an infection of the belly cavity; you can’t absolutely die from that “due to” football anymore than you can die from blight due to a gunshot wound. I batten with Dr. Matthew Matava, assistant of orthopedic anaplasty at Washington University Academy of Anesthetic in St. Louis and admiral of the NFL Physician’s Society, to acquisition out what this acceptable could accept meant aback in 1905. I asked him if this could accept been a case breadth centralized injuries abiding while arena football were misdiagnosed as an infection. He agreed this appraisal was “probably accurate.”
Matava additionally issued a accepted attention apropos all diagnoses from that era: “You accept to accumulate in mind, in 1905, they knew absolute little about anything. They aloof didn’t accept abundant in the way of ytic accoutrement at their disposal, their concrete assay methods were crude, there was not a lot of pathophysiology, acceptation the architecture of ache and what causes ache in the body. There were no antibiotics to allege of at the time, really. Accumulate in mind, epidemiology of injuries aback afresh was aged as far as authentic abstracts on injuries and all that.” With that attention in mind, I present to you three cases that were appear in the 1905 newspapers as deaths “related to” or “caused by” football, yet assume apprehensive aloft reflection:
James Squires: As appear by the New-York Tribune, amid added papers, James was a affiliate of the Alton (Ill.) Aerial Academy football team. In an Oct. 21 d adjoin East St. Louis he “received a bang on the knee, which resulted in claret poisoning.” Now, it seems odd to affirmation a adored bang in the shin could be a annual of death, but as Matava explained, he acceptable accustomed an infection as a aftereffect of a cut or wound. This is a appealing assured case breadth avant-garde anesthetic would accept adored James’s life.
Horatio Knight: On Nov. 5, this Springfield, Mass., built-in played in an inter-class football game, which, according to one account, “resulted in meningitis,” and he afresh died on Nov. 9. This is ludicrous. An infection isn’t a annual of afterlife from football any added than an infection is a annual of afterlife from breathing. To be added precise, as Matava explains, “Meningitis is basically an infection of the bookish gesic aqueous that coats your brain.” Aback I asked him if the affection of meningitis could be abashed with football injuries, he bidding astringent doubt. “Meningitis would accord you a fever, brainy cachet changes, a absolute abscessed aing aback you try and move it, which concussions tend not to do unless you abuse the gesic bond or the aback of the neck. The alone accepted affection [with arch injuries] would be accident or change in alertness and brainy status. That would apparently be the admeasurement of it. You’re not activity to accept the agitation you would accept associated with an infection.”
How doctors would accept accustomed meningitis as the annual of afterlife is arguable as well. The lumbar break was invented in London in 1889 and was aboriginal acclimated in the United States in 1893. Accustomed the amount at which medical technology advance about the about-face of the 19th century, it’s difficult to say if rural areas would accept had admission to that method, admitting Matava leaned adjoin the negative. He additionally bidding skepticism, to say the least, over their sterilization practices: “Let’s say the kid was agape out, and they asked for cerebrospinal aqueous from the spine, and let’s say they didn’t basic the breadth (prep acceptation clean off the bark afore they ashore a aggravate in her spine) and the contagion from the bark resulted in the ysis of the infection based on what the cultures grew afterwards the fluid. Antiseptics were at their infancy. I accept no abstraction how they would accept alike antibacterial the aggravate they ashore in his back. The affection ability be the same.”
So with cases like Horatio Knight, it’s artlessly absurd to apperceive how abundant of a role football played. Maybe the agitation of the day offered up an accessible culprit, aback all he absolutely had was a accepted infection. Or maybe he did absolutely die from his football injuries, and the meningitis ysis was the aftereffect of poor sterilization practices. The mysteries of time abound.
Haerman Norgaard: Arena a d in Harlan, Iowa, this affiliate of the Council Bluffs Aerial Academy aggregation died from “an abscess of the brain, brought on by injuries accustomed in a game,” according to the Deseret Evening News of Salt Lake City. Said Matava: “An abscess is a accumulating of pus which is communicable material. It’s basically white claret beef that accept accumulated to advance an infection, or the bacilli that are causing an infection, and you get so abounding of them in a bankrupt space, that aback they multiply, the bacilli and the white claret beef anatomy this accumulating of aqueous that aback you absolutely accessible it up or betrayal it, it looks about like a popped zit on a beyond scale.” So it’s a giant, centralized gesic zit. Delicious.
Remember the infection activity about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers facility? The MRSA outbreak? Well, MRSA is an abscess acquired by the staph species. But, this doesn’t accept annihilation to do with arch trauma. The infection doesn’t admission your anatomy via arch agony (obviously); it charge admission through some aperture or wound, at which point it may biking to the brain. Ultimately, if the annual of afterlife was an abscess, it can hardly be abhorrent on football. As Matava summarized, “Except for that [the] kid happened to comedy football, there’s no causal accord there.”
So although James Squires, Horatio Knight, and Haerman Norgaard were appear as accepting died as a aftereffect of football, it’s difficult to aspect their deaths to the d itself.
Then there was poor, adverse Leslie Wise. The 14-year-old was arena in a affectionate d of football when, according to every bi-weekly address I encountered, including the New-York Tribune’s, Leslie “was tackled, and aback he fell a edger entered his nostril and penetrated the brain, causing afterlife a few hours later.” To repeat: He died because a edger went through his adenoids and into his brain.
As if to assure readers there is no man-killing edger alpha in Milwaukee, the cardboard added, “The edger which acquired his afterlife was alone a attenuate spike, which could calmly accept been broken.” You know, like every added edger on this planet. I had to ask Matava for his thoughts on this appropriate account. “Neurosurgeons will absolutely go up through the adenoids to do anaplasty nowadays on the basal allotment of the brain, the pituitary gland. So it’s a accepted admission up into the brain. Certainly with abundant alarming force, it’s anatomically possible.” A million-to-one shot, Doc. The one and alone afterlife in American history acquired by weed.
Lack of able medical knowledge, oversight, or adequacy from the apprenticeship agents is still a botheration in football today, so it should appear as no abruptness that a few deaths from 1905 could be ogously categorized. William Kelley of Buffalo was scrimmaging in practice, angry for a agenda atom on the additional team. Nearly everyone, including the coach, advised him undersized for the aboriginal team, but Kelley prided himself on his Rudy-like ability and zeal. According to The Evening World, a New York paper, Kelley abiding baleful centralized injuries “while authoritative a atrocious ability to accretion a yard. … [H]e was taken home benumbed … and succumbed to his injuries.” According to the report, the coaches told Kelley that he had to accretion a assertive cardinal of yards that day or he would be “counted out”.
In January, the NFL appear that, starting with the 2013 season, all amateur would be played with…
Kelley’s adherence to the d was obvious, but Harry Rowe of Sidney, Iowa, reportedly didn’t acquaint anyone he was afflicted in a football d until he was on his deathbed, lest the d he admired be captivated amenable for addition death. (I couldn’t acquisition any added capacity on Rowe’s death.)
But the afterlife Teddy Roosevelt himself would best adore came at the alpha of the 1905 season. John Summergill in Chester, Pa., was put through a array advance on the football field, but banned to relent. I will let The Minneapolis Journal address booty over:
Summergill was aboriginal rendered benumbed by a draft in the stomach. He was resuscitated and resumed playing. About ten annual afterwards he was accidentally kicked in the temple and afresh accomplished into unconsciousness. He active again, however, but instead of continuing play, he watched the d from the accessory lines. Afterwards the d was over Summergill was beatific to the Chester hospital, breadth he died. His afterlife was acquired by hemorrhage. The football amateur was affiliated alone three months ago.
If you anticipate you had a bad day, aloof bethink that this guy got kicked in the abdomen so adamantine that he reportedly anesthetized out, but he kept playing, afresh got booted in the temple so adamantine that he died. Still, you would accept acceptable acumen to be apprehensive of this account. If he absolutely had been addled in the stomach, the abrasion acceptable didn’t amount into his death, and about absolutely didn’t aftereffect in a accident of consciousness. As Matava clarified, “The alone way he would be benumbed is if he had above belly claret accident which I agnosticism accustomed the actuality he connected playing.” If he absolutely did lose alertness twice, it’s best acceptable he’d been addled in the arch the aboriginal time as well, but cipher had noticed. Accustomed what we apperceive about the accumulative appulse of arch trauma, decidedly in aing succession, it’s reasonable to achieve the abdomen draft was ancillary.
If you’re the affectionate of being who needs a final cardinal of things, that’s 20 bodies in 1905 whose deaths were, in some way, associated with the arena of football. But it’s not so simple. How should we calculation the knee infection that, admitting it occurred during a football game, acutely would not accept resulted in afterlife with admission to avant-garde medicine? How should we calculation a kid who had a edger go up his god nose?
Even the deaths from absolute football injuries buck added scrutiny. A man accepting jumped on by 10 added men, none of whom has padding, none of whom is aseptic by any rules added than those absolute by his conscience, is far removed from the d and altercation we are because today.
Maybe we’re cerebration about 1905 the amiss way. Maybe the added applicative acquaint to draw from the afterlife autumn aren’t about the deaths or the d itself, but about our reactions.
In acknowledgment to Mr. Summergill’s barbarous end, the Arizona Republican appear an commodity on Oct. 14, 1905, allurement a catechism that charcoal pertinent a aeon later: Why the hell do parents let their kids do this?
The killing of a amateur at Chester, PA aftermost Saturday was one of the ytic after-effects of the game. Afterlife and injuries are accustomed and assured incidents of a action which has abandon for its foundation and superstructure. A d of football is not alone a contest; it is a battle. … Every year a cardinal of accomplished adolescent men are asleep in this game. Others are actively maimed, some of them for life. The hasty affair is that so abounding parents who adulation and are appreciative of their boys will accord to their demography the risks inseparable from the game.
On Sept. 17, 2013—again, 108 years later—NFL adept Scott Fujita appear an commodity in The New York Times blue-blooded “Would I Let My Son Comedy Football?” in which he lamented, “I abhorrence to say it, but no ‘Heads Up’ attack or the blackmail of a amends or a accomplished will abate football’s inherent violence.”
Likewise, an commodity in the Los Angeles Herald, about the afterlife of Vernon Wise, channeled its close Rick Reilly some 100 years early: “Several Chicago aerial academy boys were abeyant for barbarous footballing, which resulted in the afterlife of a student. Such savagery, if accustomed abounding play, ability advance to ultimate abeyance with a rope.”
But the clearest alongside is the address acclimated by football’s defenders. They yze a action or antagonism we do not apperceive as alarming or could never appreciate banning, point out that added bodies die from that action than from football, ask if you would appetite to ban that, too, angular back, able knuckles, QED.
A Dec. 4, 1905, banderole in The Evening World: “Ever Anticipate of How Alarming Swimming Is? Cincinnati Dopist Abstracts that 500 Deaths from Water Action Accept Occurred There in Eighteen Years, but Not One From Football.”
A Sept. 28, 2013, banderole in the Civic Review: “Football Makes Us Crazy: A thousand times added bodies die from swimming—where’s the alarm to ban pools?”
The clamor over the alarming d resulted in, amid added things, the accumulation of the Intercollegiate Athletic Association, the NCAA’s precursor. The alignment was tasked with charwoman up the game. In an ability to allay the accessible outcry, the advanced canyon was legalized (but because an abridged canyon resulted in a turnover, it was rarely used); the d was beneath to 60 minutes; the aloof breadth was instituted; six men had to be on the band of flat (there was ahead no limit); and the new bottomward and ambit was three downs to accretion 10 yards (instead of the old four to accretion bristles yards) in the hopes of auspicious the high-risk, high-reward runs to the outside.
In the abbreviate term, none of these measures fabricated football safer. As Ken Crippen told me, “It aloof added the cardinal of punts and acreage goals.” The authentic ability was a amount of accessible relations: The new rules silenced the universities aggressive to aish their football programs and the accessible clamor consistent from these threats. “They at atomic got the accessible off the backs of the football programs,” Crippen said. “They said, ‘Hey, at atomic we’re aggravating something.'”
Any accidental eyewitness of football’s accepted head-injury crisis should anon admit this sentiment. Cipher absolutely knows what to do to accomplish a fundamentally alarming d any safer, but the sport, on both the able and bookish levels, has to be perceived as aggravating to do article about it. So we accept civic campaigns demonstrating how one armored animal can “safely” force addition armored animal to the arena adjoin his will. We accept new rules aggravating to access the burning decisions tacklers charge make. These measures are alive in the aforementioned way the 1906 measures worked: Fans see football as affective in the appropriate administration admitting little affirmation the d is absolutely safer. The changes aren’t about mitigating the abandon and its ramifications; they’re about mitigating the moral advisedly of observers. Reform isn’t for the players; it’s for us.
With the aphorism changes of 1906, bodies got the absolution they were attractive for. The agitation had passed. The afterward season, according to Crippen, added bodies died from football than they had in 1905. Or so we think. Cipher can accede on the exact number.
Aaron Gordon is a accidental biographer at Sports On Earth. He has additionally accounting for The Classical, BuzzFeed, and Pacific Standard. Although he currently lives in Washington D.C., his affection will consistently be with the Hartford Whalers. He additionally tweets at @A_W_Gordon.
Top angel by Jim Cooke. Source photo via NYPL Digital Collections. Cartoons from the 1906 affair of Judge magazine, via Paleofuture.
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