Hampden Park Blood Bath
In the 1890s, football was still a controversial game on many college campuses. After a tough 1894 match between Harvard and Yale, a sensationalist press began to wonder if football was too brutal. Several newspaper reports exaggerated the danger of the so-called Hampden Park Blood Bath, erroneously reporting that some players were near death. News of the game’s brutality even reached a German newspaper that described the game as an “awful butchery.” As a result of the game, the Yale faculty suspended the annual match with Harvard for three years, but that was only because Yale felt that Harvard had slandered their captain Frank Hinkey, who had been accused of dirty play during the game (Bernstein 2001, 63).
Critics, particularly Harvard University president Charles Eliot used the furor surrounding the game to call for its abolition. In 1896, Eliot reported to the university’s Board of Overseers that “The American game of football as now played is wholly unfit for colleges and schools.” The Harvard president further declared that “football is more brutalizing than prizefighting, cockfighting, or bullfighting.”
Combining new concerns over brutality with previous worries about professionalization, he went on to tell his board that “football causes an unreasonable number of serious injuries and deaths…that many of the serious injuries are of such nature that in all probability they never can be perfectly repaired…and that violations of the rules of the game by coaches, trainers, and players are highly profitable, and are constantly perpetrated by all parties.” With assertions such as these, Eliot had become the leading voice calling for football’s banishment from the campus, but others would soon join him (“Football Unfit” 1906, 7).
The match, which was also called the “Springfield Massacre,” appears in most scholarly work on the history of college football, but is reported as if the game was as horrific as the press claimed. This site seeks to demonstrate that, according to contemporary accounts of actual witnesses and reporters for the schools papers, the game was without doubt a hard fought contest. It was not, however, the slaughter that many in the outside press made it out to be.
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To explore this history further, click on the tabs above to see what historians have said, what the outside press reported that caused so much furor, what the Harvard Crimson, and the Yale Daily News reported.