The New YorkWorld expressed a growing conviction that reform was absolutely imperative "if ruffianism and brutality and sneaking cowardice are not to be bred into our youth as a part of their training." Writing in Harper's Weekly, Theodore Roosevelt (apostle of the strenuous life) defended the game as best he could, but he also declared in forthright terms that roughness and professionalism must cease if football was to be preserved.
This chorus of disapproval compelled action. Under the leadership of Walter Camp, efforts were made to bring about reforms. The block game was done away with through the adoption of the rule requiring surrender of the ball after the fourth down unless a gain of ten yards had been made; massed rushes were discouraged by providing for more open play; and referees were empowered to deal drastically with slugging or any unnecessary roughness. The attempt was made to prevent professionalism and enforce stricter rules of eligibility. Nothing could be done to suppress the instinct to win by almost any means (that had become a part of football, and spectator interest already demanded a fierce and bitter struggle), but the game was saved from this threat of suppression for the further triumphs which awaited it in the twentieth century.
THE SOCIAL WORLD as represented by the little coterie of the very wealthy who gave elaborate fancy-dress balls, had their boxes at the opera, and hunted or played polo at the new country clubs was insignificant in numbers. That larger group of the privileged who less ostentatiously supported the legitimate stage, had the leisure to enjoy such sports as tennis and golf, and made up the college-bred crowd at football games was considerably larger, but still it did not bulk very large in a total population which had grown by the 1890's to more than sixtythree millions. Nevertheless this world of society in the broader sense had a tremendous influence in the development of recreation, for it set the standards that the democracy tried to follow as best it could.
Social activities received immense publicity in the Gilded Age. The extravagant balls of New York and Chicago millionaires, the yacht-races and the polo matches, the coaching parade at Newport, were written up with great gusto and vivid detail in the nation's press. All the world knew what was happening in these circles, and very often it wanted to go out and do likewise. The middle class was ambitious to take up every activity on which society had set the stamp of fashionable approval.
While this too often meant that a premium was placed on ostentation, it also encouraged the healthy growth of many forms of amusement. It can at least be said that society's sponsorship of the theatre and opera, of sports and outdoor activities, partly counteracted in its social effects the example it set in luxury and extravagance.