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Today's Tidbit... Michigan Football, Gerald Ford, and Idealism
Sometimes people and institutions stand on principle. Other times they don’t.
In 1934, with the country in the depths of the Great Depression, Gerald Ford was a senior football player at Michigan. While they were undefeated in 1932 and 1933, the Wolverines failed to score in losses to Michigan State and Chicago to open the 1934 season, with Georgia Tech coming next.
A game that should have attracted little attention sparked a nationwide controversy because Georgia Tech refused to take the field against teams with Black players. Michigan had one, Willis Ward, who Ford befriended as freshmen and they were roomies on road trips. When it became apparent Michigan would appease the racists by not playing Ward, Ford told his coach he was quitting the team.
At Ward's urging, Ford relented, playing an inspired game in what proved to be the Wolverines' only victory of the year.
Like others at the time, the top folks at Michigan did not follow their beliefs, or maybe they did, but they took a stand on a different issue in October. It seems that people outside the university sold bootleg football game programs, which reduced the university’s profits. To stop the bootleg sales, Michigan copyrighted their team roster and player numbers, ridding Ann Arbor of the bootlegger pestilence.
I can’t argue with Michigan wanting to shut down the bootleggers, but they clearly dropped the ball on the bigger issue that season. The Ford for Ward story shows how college students sometimes display far more wisdom than the adults in the room. We should all keep Gerald Ford in mind before we dismiss a college student’s idealism.
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