Teddy’s legacy put a ‘charge’ in me

Teddy Roosevelt, Ruff Rider,

I have always admired Teddy Roosevelt.  It may have begun when his charge up San Juan Hill charged me up.

As a kid, I admired strong military figures, defending our country.  Perhaps because my dad served in WWII.

As I got older, I learned more about Teddy, including several different ways his life intersected with at least four of my careers.  I’m not sure if my peripatetic work history can be labeled a “career,” but I digress.

I have spent three decades working in Law Enforcement, so I was pleased to learn that Teddy was the President of the NYC Police Commission.  He took over that job at a time when the NYPD was riddled with corruption.  A tie-in for me is that the man who hired me to be the Assistant Director of Training for the D.C.-based, Ford Foundation-funded, police think tank, THE POLICE FOUNDATION, was Patrick V. Murphy.  If you google him, you will see that he was the “Mr. Clean” Police Commissioner of the NYPD, hired to clean up the department after several scandals — just like Teddy.

Teddy briefly served as a Deputy Sheriff, in a small county in North Dakota.  I served as the Chief of Staff for the Sheriff of Los Angeles County, the largest Sheriff’s Department in the country. 

I have also spent some time in and around football.  In my first job out of Notre Dame, I was a less-than- memorable junior varsity coach at the then oldest (1845) military high school in the country—Kentucky Military Institute.

BTW, in my first job as a reporter (covering local sports for the Gloucester Daily Times), the Sports Editor gave me three rules:  No sentence should contain more than 13 words; no paragraph should contain more than three sentences; and never use the passive voice.  I violated Rule #1 in the second and third sentence in this four-sentence paragraph, but I digress.

At KMI, I coached at least two kids who earned acclaim in other fields.  Danny Sullivan won the 1985 Indianapolis 500.  Incidentally, my ND journalism classmate, television producer Don Ohlmeyer, used the term “spin to win” to describe Danny’s spectacular crash-recovery win.  Danny’s email address contains the words “spin to win.”  But I digress.

Greg Stumbo was a three-decade member of the Kentucky House of Representatives and later served as Attorney General.  While Danny was a speedy running back, Greg played all 11 positions for me and would have played more, if asked.  And, of course, I was in charge of crowd management in Notre Dame Stadium when I retired.  So, what in Andy Heck does this have to do with Teddy?

In 1905, he called together the Presidents of three leading Ivy League football powers, in response to the 50 or so football deaths in the prior half dozen years.  As a result of highlighting this issue, several prominent universities dropped the sport.  Two positive results were the creation of the NCAA (which, sadly, has become a corrupt and incompetent body) and the beginning of major rules changes designed to reduce injuries, such as eliminating mass formation plays (like the “flying wedge”) and encouraging a passing game, which would later factor into the fame of the Vital Viking and his Norsemen.

The third of Teddy’s and my sharing of a similar career interest was when he strongly endorsed the recommendations of the Simplified Spelling Board and pushed for the adoption of their guidelines in all federal documents. Two GREAT Americans were board members of this distinguished group of simplified spellers:  Samuel Clemens, who self-identified as Mark Twain, altho he was clearly a binary kind of guy; and Andrew Carnegie, who funded more than 2,500 libraries.

Teddy’s desire to get our great country to tidy up our spelling was a miserable failure, and he abandoned it after hours, not weeks.  In later days, some spelling changes were adopted (draft instead of draught; jail instead of gaol; labor instead of labour; and honor instead of honour).

How did this part of Teddy’s background compare with mine?  I was once a high school English teacher, back when English Grammar was one of the Three R’s (none of which stood for racism, but I digress).  My favorite writer was Clemens.  I’m a Twainiac.  Every once in a while I re-read “Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offenses.”  Still makes me laugh out loud.

The fourth time Teddy and I had a connection came about because of Grizzly Bears (Ursus arctos horribilis).  T.R. said “The American grizzly embodies the spirit of America.  He should be our symbol! Not that ridiculous eagle.”  During the early 90s, I was in charge of sales for Counter Assault, the first prominent Grizzly Bear deterrent pepper spray. 

I was responsible for increasing our use among law enforcement agencies and for personal self-protection.

Oddly, for a man who spent a long time in politics, Teddy’s political bent might be difficult to discern today.  He was a Republican (the party founded by Abe Lincoln) when that party was more liberal than the Democratic Party.  Later, when he was the most successful third party candidate in history, he ran under the banner of the Progressive Party, which he founded, although it was nicknamed “The Bull Moose Party” after his description of his health.  

He was the country’s first Presidential environmentalist, doubling the number of our National Parks System; he was clearly a conservationist; his failed spelling idea was admirably intended to make it easier for immigrants to learn our complex language; and he reduced police corruption and decreased football injuries.  He was also responsible for “The Square Deal” (consumer protection), the “Pure Food and Drug Act,” and the first Worker’s Comp legislation.  He also spoke out against what he called “predatory wealth.”

On the other hand, many of his actions would be considered conservative today.  He was a hunter.  He had a large gun collection.  He was in favor of, and personally led, military intervention in foreign lands.  He opposed President Wilson for not immediately committing the U.S. to WWI.  He even volunteered to lead some French forces in the War.  He created the The Roosevelt Corollary (to the Monroe Doctrine).  In his view, the U.S. should assume the role of what we would today call “The World’s Policeman.”  In a further irony, this interventionist position was rebuked and replaced by the Good Neighbor Policy of the later President Roosevelt.

There are two other elements of the life and death of Teddy Roosevelt which also intersect with the Capster.  He was an asthmatic.  Because my asthma was a health hindrance when I was growing up, I admired athletes who starred in sports despite having asthma.  Some were NBA stars George Yardley and Paul Arizin, my favorite pitcher, Bob Gibson, and Jerome “The Bus” Bettis.  Teddy Roosevelt was active in athletic pursuits his entire life, including boxing, jiu-jitsu, tennis, swimming, and polo.

One of the causes of the early demise of the Bull Moose was a trip he took with a Notre Dame man.  Rev. John Zahm was a prominent scientist, author, professor, and former Vice President of Notre Dame.  He convinced his friend T.R. to go on an expedition in South America.  One of the ambitious goals was to find the headwaters of the “River of Doubt.”

On the 1914 trip, Roosevelt suffered a leg wound and contracted “tropical fever.”  Coupled with a chest infection from an assassin’s bullet (1912) and the malaria he caught while fighting in Cuba (1898), this weakened him. He had been the ultimate “man’s man” and personification of vigor, favoring what he called “The Strenuous Life,” but he suffered ill health for a half dozen years before his death at age 60.

Quite a man, our 26th President!