"Now," Larrabee said judicially, "this is, in some ways...an admirable activity. But in others nothing could be more archaic, be more related to the predatory habits that Veblen imputed to the master class of the money, and nothing, in many senses of the word, could be more wasteful."
No one rose to dispute this view of the archaic, predatory sport of hunting which, as any hunter knows, is economically indefensible in terms of the food it provides. Instead of a defense of hunters and sportsmen, there was the mild, inconclusive comment of Richard Hofstadter, professor of history at Columbia University, that Veblen hated sports. Hofstadter recalled "his particularly sardonic observations on college football...that football bore the same relation to physical culture as a bullfight does to agriculture."
Veblen, a man who could write an entire chapter on sports without ever thinking of the word "fun," held that sportsmen have "essentially a boyish temperament," and then in making his comparison between football and bullfighting, he observed darkly that adult sports share the make-believe of children's games.
"Serviceability for these lusory institutions [football and bullfighting]," Veblen wrote, "requires sedulous training or breeding. The material used, whether brute or human, is subjected to careful selection and discipline, in order to secure and accentuate certain aptitudes and propensities which are characteristic of the ferine state, and which tend to obsolescence under domestication.... The culture bestowed in football gives a product of exotic ferocity and cunning. It is a rehabilitation of the early barbarian temperament, together with a suppression of those details of temperament which, as seen from the standpoint of the social and economic exigencies, are the redeeming features of the savage character."
These are harsh words, and must have been written with outthrust tongue and a good deal of heavy breathing. They come from the humorless pen of a man who inspired the witless technocracy movement of the '30s. They may be contrasted with some recent words on sports by Pope Pius XII (SI, Oct. 24) and some more recent words by Adam Walsh (see below).
Veblen is by no means forgotten, and there are people loose in the world today who, now that technocracy is a dead issue, would convert the algae of the sea into rich, nutritious protein for human consumption and never mind the absence of pressed duck or stewed venison.
They are a continuing breed but fortunately, not so prolific as hunters and football fans.
OLD MULE WALSH
Adam Walsh is a man who likes to win. Once, some time ago, he was captain of a team where the backfield was called the Four Horsemen, the line was called the Seven Mules, and they almost always won. Now Adam Walsh (Rockne called him the best center he had ever coached) stood dead in the middle of a battered, bruised and humiliated squad—his team—which had just lost its 14th game in 15 Saturdays. The last game of the season was over and Bowdoin College had been drubbed by the University of Maine 54-8.
There was neither defeat nor resignation in the strident Walsh voice that cut through the yelps of celebration from the adjoining locker room.