Future President Theodore Roosevelt on the Benefits of Sports

Executive Power (of Exercise)th

Theodore Roosevelt, a decade before becoming the 26th President of the United States, took a strong stance in favor of personal involvement in athletics while cautioning against the excesses of obsession and professionalism in this 1890 speech, published in The North American Review.

“During the last twenty-five years there has been a wonderful growth of interest in and appreciation of healthy muscular amusements,” then thirty-two year old Roosevelt wrote, also allowing that “the spirit of rivalry” was a welcome aspect of the sporting experience. The future Rough Rider went on, adding that “there is no better way of counteracting this tendency [to be sedentary] than by encouraging bodily exercise, and especially the sports which develop such qualities as courage, resolution, and endurance.”

Roosevelt, then a member of the United States Civil Service Commission, believed especially in the benefits of outdoor sports. “The hunter and mountaineer lead healthier lives [and] in time of need they would make better soldiers than the trained athlete” he said, adding that outdoor sports were not limited to the wealthy: “there is no large city from which it is impossible to reach a tract of perfectly wild, wooded or mountainous land within forty-eight hours.”

Roosevelt, himself an avid outdoorsman, allowed that team sports can have many similar benefits, as long as they are not “elevated into a fetish.” He suggested sporting options for adults, such as “ball clubs, rowing clubs, polo clubs, hunt clubs, bicycle clubs, snow-shoe clubs, lacrosse clubs“ that can be found in most locals, but cautioned that “the man who makes some athletic pursuit his main business … ceases to be a particularly useful citizen.”

He also cautioned against the rise of professionalism, which with the exception of baseball invariably became steeped in scandal and “the border-line of criminality.” He went on to say that “The existence of a caste of gladiators in the midst of a population which does not itself participate in any manly sports is usually, as it was at Rome, a symptom of national decadence.”

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