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Ghosts of Football Past

Saturday, February 03, 2018 - 07:08 PM

In anticipation of Super Bowl LII (Go Eagles), we're revisiting an old episode about the surprising history of how the game came to be. It's the end of the 19th century -- the Civil War is over, and the frontier is dead. And young college men are anxious. What great struggle will test their character? Then along comes a new craze: football. A brutally violent game where young men can show a stadium full of fans just what they're made of. Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Penn -- the sons of the most powerful men in the country are literally knocking themselves out to win these gladiatorial battles. And then the most American team of all, with the most to prove, gets in the game and owns it. The Carlisle Indian School, formed in 1879 to assimilate the children and grandchildren of the men who fought the final Plains Wars against the fathers and grandfathers of the Ivy Leaguers, starts challenging the best teams in the country. On the football field, Carlisle had a chance for a fair fight with high stakes -- a chance to earn respect, a chance to be winners, and a chance to go forward in a changing world that was destroying theirs. 

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Barbara Landis, David Adams, Eric Anderson, Dr. Conrad Crane, Cara Curtis, Sally Jenkins and Chuck Klosterman


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Comments [20]

RL Newbie from Boulder, CO

I've been a RL listener for only a year, and love the content. Even the reposts, which this newbie appreciates being presented, as I might not otherwise come across it. I refresh the podcast every day in search of a new RL post, and generally find myself craving episodes far sooner than they're offered.

Seems many longtime listeners are frustrated by the frequency of reposts. Perhaps you can create a spinoff podcast for such a purpose? I'd love to pop into a "Best of RadioLab" podcast and listen to such episodes whenever they're available.

Love the work, please don't stop (or even slow down!).

Feb. 23 2018 03:48 PM
GK from Boulder, CO

Surprised to re-hear this episode without the great Jim Thorpe being mentioned as a great progenitor of the game. Games he played in are mentioned, and he did become the first nominal president of the league that was a precursor to the NFL, so it was weird that he was left out of this story. Personal opinion and all that I suppose.

Feb. 14 2018 03:35 PM

Another episode of rehashed material? You ask us donate (and I do) because each episode supposedly costs $100k on average to produce, yet all we're getting lately is subpar or reworked episodes. Perhaps RadioLab has gotten too bloated and maybe it's time to strip back on the numerous producers and staff and get back to what you do (or did) best, science. Ever since the switch from NPR to WNYC I'm increasingly disappointed with the direction of the show.

Feb. 12 2018 02:28 PM

I don't want to criticize - I love Radiolab - but I have to add my voice to those who have come down on the reposts. I don't mind the politicized episodes, but I do miss the focus on science, and the lack of new content is unfortunate.

I obviously don't know what's going on behind the scenes - I hope there's not some kind of personal crisis precipitating all the retreads.

As someone else noted, the censorship of the 4chan/Anonymous episode was unnecessary. It was a good episode. I get where you're coming from - it's a matter of perspective - but I would personally have had more respect had you followed through and left it up.

Feb. 08 2018 10:19 PM
Bill Anthony from Chicagoland

As it is said, history is written by the victors, and this story is a case in point. It is not "politics", it is "science" and also, unfortunately, exemplary of the brokenness of human nature. The stories of the treatment of the First Nations in Canada are equally in need of telling, and are being told.

Feb. 08 2018 12:54 AM
the skleeve from Portland

I liked this episode...when it came out in 2015.

RadioLab...R.I.P.: 2002-2015ish

Feb. 07 2018 04:42 PM
Dave from Philadelphia

An enjoyable relisten. Happily shared this with friends. Thanks for the great show.

Feb. 07 2018 09:23 AM
Dillon from NJ

I can't believe that you could spend that much time talking about The Carlisle School and Pop Warner, and Jim Thorpe's name wasn't even mentioned.

Feb. 06 2018 06:53 PM
Andrew from Charlottesville, VA

I really enjoyed this episode even though it contained one or two minor factual errors. Case in point: Pop Warner did not invent the hidden ball trick. During an Auburn-Vanderbilt game that was played on November 9, 1895, John Heisman directed Auburn quarterback Reynolds Tichenor to conceal the ball in his jersey while running a revolving wedge play against Vandy. Tichenor’s “hidden ball” trick completely fooled the Vandy defense, allowing him to scramble thirty-five yards for a touchdown.

Feb. 06 2018 12:50 PM
Daniel T. from Midwest

Radiolab should listen to its fan base or just officially end the show while it has some merit left. It is evident they do not take the time to read these comments and complaints.

Feb. 06 2018 09:17 AM
Zoe from Denver

Thank you to Hannah, for bringing up the darker side of Carlisle. I thought this podcast was wonderful--I love the passion, curiosity and open-heartedness that Jad and Robert bring to so many disparate issues. I loved this story--and also felt great sadness as I thought of old folks I know who have recounted personal traumas associated with boarding schools, including Carlisle. I really appreciated hearing people's stories about the positives of their own personal experiences with Carlisle (I'm thinking of some of the comments when this episode first aired), but I also know that with the positive came a lot of loss, sadness, difficulty, is heartbreaking to hear such stories, but it is especially devastating to hear about children experiencing these things. I don't know...sometimes as a white person I feel like the boarding schools and the fostering/adopting kids out of their communities and cultures is like the last and greatest theft, for we were stealing the very futures of these families and communities. It feels wrong to me to talk about Carlisle without acknowledging that it was a place of suffering and a symbol of loss for many, but also, I am a white person, so maybe I am misguided in my criticisms. I don't know.

Feb. 06 2018 03:38 AM
Mark from Boston

Yet another re-hash of an old podcast. Really? I agree with the post suggesting a science spin-off or rebranding.

Feb. 06 2018 02:14 AM
Garrett from LA

I guess the Eagles listened to this podcast and created that trick play with Nick Foles to score the touchdown which pretty much won the game.

Feb. 05 2018 08:33 PM
dan from nowhere and everywhere

It's now abundantly clear that Radiolabs heart is no longer in the science based stories that have built their fan-base. Perhaps a re-branding is in order or maybe a spin-off that would focus on science and leave the politics behind.

Feb. 05 2018 01:24 PM
Jim from Omaha

There are now 3 types of Radio Lab podcasts
1. SJW podcast
2. An old podcast
3. Someone else's podcast

I miss the good old days when there were new amazing science podcasts.

Feb. 05 2018 11:52 AM

Another link with info about Carlisle School:

Feb. 04 2018 11:59 PM

I know this podcast is old, but I would love to see an addendum. The children sent to Carlisle and other boarding schools did not just die of 'disease.' They were abused and in poor conditions. Some died after running away (from exposure).
One link to further information/material:

Feb. 04 2018 11:57 PM
Kate from Stephan, SD

Is there a transcript for this podcast? I would love to use this in my classroom.

Feb. 04 2018 11:10 PM
Dmitry from Moscow

Really getting tired of the reposts, more perfect, politicized episodes and censorship(deleting the 4chan episode was incredibly lame)

Feb. 04 2018 08:42 AM

another repost?

Feb. 03 2018 09:05 PM

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