by Matthew Schaefer
From the time he was a Stanford student, Hoover was a fan of football. In his memoirs, Hoover plays up his role as the financial manager of the Stanford football team that won ‘The Big Game’ against Cal in ’94. The Stanford eleven no doubt benefited by the coaching prowess of Walter Camp, one of the giants of collegiate football. As President, Hoover invited that team to the White House for a reunion.
This proximity to football demi-gods, coupled with other life accomplishments, earned Hoover the annual gold medal award from the National Football Foundation and Hall Fame. Hoover was the third man given this medal, following Dwight Eisenhower and Douglas MacArthur. This medal was presented at a December 6, 1960 dinner.
At age 86, Hoover might have been expected to send regrets and not to attend. As the dinner was held at 420 Lexington Avenue, New York City–an address formerly shared by the American offices of the Commission for Relief in Belgium and the American Relief Administration–Hoover attended. He made the short cab ride from the Waldorf-Astoria and spoke to those gathered to honor him.
Hoover’s address opened: ‘I often have indicated my conviction for the high purpose and values of football and sports generally. Sportsmanship is the greatest teacher of morals except for religion. But I have doubted that this football award should be given to me—as I have never played football.’ Demurrals aside, Hoover then went on to reprise his memoir tales about managing the ’94 Stanford team.
He closed his remarks by returning to his premise that sports teach morals: ‘The value of this teaching is not limited to the members of contesting athletic teams. It radiates to the huge crowds at college games; it radiates to the audience at all other games. Those who attend know well the rules of sportsmanship for they quickly react adversely to any breach of the rules. From true sportsmanship radiates moral inspiration to our whole nation.’
Somewhere in this story is a lesson for today.