After World War II, organized tackle football programs for boys younger than high school age grew enormously in popularity in the United States, prompting concerns from pediatricians and educators about the sport’s physical and emotional health effects. At the same time, sports medicine was emerging as a sub-specialty. Examining how American sports medicine doctors and football coaches established their professional authority on youth football safety in the 1950s and 1960s reveals how their justifications for this collision sport were connected to broader cultural trends. Doctors and coaches, who were virtually all men, emphasized their firsthand knowledge of an all-male sport that was widely promoted as a means of teaching boys to become men. They insisted that proper supervision and equipment were sufficient to protect young athletes. Their arguments for youth football’s benefits were based on the belief that men best knew how to impart desired values such as loyalty, patriotism and discipline to boys. In framing football’s health risks as manageable with adult supervision, coaches and sports medicine doctors played a crucial role in promoting the vision of American manhood associated with tackle football.


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pp. 167-191
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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