The historical memory of Theodore Roosevelt as an athlete and as a builder of America’s modern sporting landscape is an enduring one. Scholars and lay historians alike have often recounted Roosevelt’s athletic feats. And indeed many connections do exist. The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) links Roosevelt to its earliest days. Fans of the Army-Navy football game tout Roosevelt as a forefather. Journalists covering Roosevelt’s time in the White House have left behind dozens of stories describing the president’s wrestling, hiking, sparring, and tennis matches. Despite these connections (and others), however, the broadly accepted historical memory is imprecise—at times exaggerating Roosevelt’s impact on the sporting world and at other times failing to appreciate the complexity and contradictions inherent in Roosevelt’s “athletic doctrine.” This article begins to remedy that imprecision by examining the historiography and historical memory of Roosevelt the athlete and identifying the tenets of Roosevelt’s athletic doctrine. Then, and most significantly, the study examines several examples of Roosevelt’s limited influence over the development of modern sporting culture in the United States. The goal of the study is not to knock Roosevelt from his pedestal within U.S. sports history but rather to reconsider the intricacies of Roosevelt’s athletic biography and to recalibrate our understanding of Roosevelt’s influence over sporting culture.

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