'Battle Of Little Bighorn' by Edgar Samuel Paxson

Was American Football Invented Because of The End of The Indian Wars?

Simon Moya-Smith

Organized football in the U.S. was, in part, established when white men could no longer prove their virility by killing Native Americans, according to historians.

Sally Jenkins, author of The Real All Americans – a book about the origins of American football and the Carlisle Indian boarding school football team – said on Radiolab, an investigative podcast, settlers who had fought in the Civil War traveled west to fight the Lakota, Apache, Cheyenne, and other Native American nations.

"Football is as old as the Celtic civilization. I mean, you can trace primal games of, you know, Danish invaders kicking skulls around the shores of England," she said. "But organized football is really a creation of the 1860s and '70s in this country. It’s a post Civil War creation. It comes along just really a couple of years after the last great conquering armies settle the west."

But, historians said, a predicament appeared for settlers when Indian wars and massacres began to wane: how to prove one's manliness.

“If you’re a young student, say, back east at a fancy school like Harvard, how are you going to prove your own toughness? I mean your father, your older brother, they maybe fought at Gettysburg, Battle of the Little Bighorn," said historian Dr. Conrad Crane.

Historian David Adams said with the end of consistent confrontations with Native Americans, men were thought to be losing their grit.

"The American frontier experience was over. There was this feeling among a lot intellectuals that American men were losing their masculinity, they were being feminized in a sense," he said. 

In desperation for opportunities to demonstrate one's manliness, the game of football was invented at both Harvard and Yale universities. The point of the game was twofold: to prove strength and take land, i.e. gain yards.

Jenkins' book tells of how the Native Americans at the Carlisle Indian boarding school in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, learned football from a dormitory master who had formerly taught at one of the Ivy Leagues and how the team went on to gain the approbation of Americans.

According to Jenkins, reporters at the time would refer to the Native American football players as 'redskins.'

"And if you read the newspaper stories they're written in this kind of blood curdling – shot through with Indian cliches. Here come the 'redskins'."

Listen to the podcast here.

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tmsyr11's picture
Submitted by tmsyr11 on
WOW, this is quite a S-T-R-E-T-C-H in Mr. Moya making HIS own twisted point about football and (masculinity?) I can only read the names of those native american athletes to the American Indian Hall of Fame and understand, there was no racial bias or bigotry on their part because of their love of the game/sport (football, baseball, basketball, hockey, etc.). So previous generations of football watchers, sport enthusiasts, competition lovers can't be entirely wrong, but can they (according to Mr. moya). Considering though the Indian Wars from 7 generations ago (140 years) to the current EFFORT to incorporate RACE_BASED POLITICAL conflict (OR Race-based polictics based on bigotry), i would rather have football played in the stadiums than in the streets. Masculinity brought up the Mr. Moya…..I am not going there…..

alexjacobs's picture
Submitted by alexjacobs on
Thorpe's Carlisle (High School) Indians defeating the unbeaten Army team was legendary, as were the Native runners from east to west who beat the best USA runners, Eisenhower was knocked own&out by Thorpe in that game & on his deathbed it was one thing he wanted to make clear "Thorpe didn't knock me out, I got back up!) - but not back in the game! Pratt (save the man kill the ndn) didnt want his charges to play football because he was trying to CIVILIZE them, it was too violent and the big bad white boys, would say&do anything to win (Patriot's spy & then deflate-gate?) ...Pop Warner got involved in coaching he & Thorpe basically invented/developed the forward pass game to get around the big uglies on the line...Pop Warner & others failed Thorpe when he needed help from his white coaches to fight the bigoted amateur-professional charges by THE GUY that Thorpe beat out to get on the Olympic team...Football is full of psychology as i told some white folks one time and they got so upset "THERE'S NO PSYCHOLOGY IN FOOTBALL! Well that is so wrong, the military terminology has always been there...psy-ops, spying, codes, D & O formations, "to battle" every sunday...Moya's argument may be a stretch but timing is everything in this game isn't it... and American myths start & end & start again w the Closing of the Frontier...

askanindian's picture
Submitted by askanindian on
Haha manly right. Ok do this go ask any honest retired NFL player and they will tell you just how manly football is. Or go ask a sports doctor what football does to your body and how damaging it is to your body. Football was only invented to emasculate men and turn them into sissies and tear up their bodies and the government needed a way to control people and keep them stupid. There's more to it than just that they wanted to kill Indians because whites were/are insecure and less manly. Those "intellectual" white men wanted to KEEP them feminized and colonize them.

Jaime Carolyn Pretell-Samsey
Jaime Carolyn P...
Submitted by Jaime Carolyn P... on
A bit of a stretch as American Football is predated by Rugby Football.