Communism’s Worst Enemy: Maryland Football

In 1952, in the middle of the Cold War, many Americans believed that the United States was under attack from Communism around the world and here at home. So what was the University of Maryland doing to defend democracy and the American way? Well, according to one Congressman, Maryland’s athletic program (our football team to be precise) was a major force contributing to America’s national defense and protecting Americanism.

William Jennings Bryan Dorn - photo credit: University of South Carolina Libraries
William Jennings Bryan Dorn – photo credit: University of South Carolina Libraries

It may seem a little had to believe today, but in January 1952, University of Maryland President Harry Clifton Byrd received a letter from Congressman William Jennings Bryan Dorn of South Carolina saying just that. At a time when criticism of the role of football on college campuses was spreading throughout the country, Maryland football stood out as an undefeated team that had just upset the University of Tennessee in the Sugar Bowl, 28-13. In his letter, Congressman Dorn wrote that “the average American boy develops his physical body and does not form injurious habits, in anticipation of the day in which he might participate in sports…this has contributed to sportsmanship, Democracy, and self-reliance in America.” He went on to discuss how football and the physical and mental skills it fostered were critical to preparing men for service in the military and national defense. In early 1952, in the middle of the Korean War and shortly after World War II, Dorn (a veteran himself) and many other Americans saw a need for benefits that football brought to the United States.

Dorn also wrote in his letter to President Byrd that he was sure that “the Communists are against American football as practiced by our free American colleges.” Congressman Dorn spoke regularly in praise of football and in defense of our American way of life. In 1959, he even testified in Congress in support of football and its benefits. Suspicious of anyone who would criticize the sport, he called those who opposed football and its benefits “so-called intellectuals and leftists” who were in fact “the dupes of subversive elements intent on destroying our freedoms.” In the letter he wrote to Byrd, Congressman Dorn claimed that these football critics were also “not too enthusiastic about Democratic government as we have known it.”

President H. C. Byrd and Members of Football Team, 1951
President H. C. Byrd and Members of Football Team, 1951

President Byrd was more than happy to receive Dorn’s letter and quickly replied to the Congressman writing “we are going to keep on with the battle and we will win it too.”

But why would Dorn, a Congressman from South Carolina and a passionate fan of Clemson football write to President Byrd and the University of Maryland? Check back next week to learn more about the speech that President Byrd gave earlier in 1952 that likely prompted Dorn’s letter.

To see Dorn’s letter, check out this link:

William Jennings Bryan Dorn Letter 

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