In his forthcoming book Dyed in Crimson: Football, Faith, and Remaking Harvard’s America, Zev Eleff examines the decision in 1926 by Bill Bingham, then the Harvard University athletic director, to hire a Jew named Arnold Horween to coach the football team—and its consequences. Bingham hoped Horween could help revitalize the sport and make it more enjoyable for players and for other students; Eleff argues that, in a time of growing anti-Semitism at elite colleges, the decision opened doors for Jews in the Ivy League. Menachem Wecker writes:
In the 1920s, Boston Brahmins—wealthy New Englanders and descendants of the Puritans—ruled Harvard. Football provided a site where a working-class Protestant (Bingham), an Irish Catholic (Eddie Casey, the freshman coach), and a Midwestern Jew (Horween) could chip away at that elitism, and replace social status with merit.
A former captain of the Harvard team, Horween went on to run his family’s successful leather business in Chicago and to serve as a trustee of the Chicago Symphony. He and his brother Ralph played in the National Football League in 1923—a feat that wouldn’t be repeated in the NFL until 2012, when the Jewish brothers Mitchell Schwartz and Geoff Schwartz played for the Browns and the Vikings respectively.
Horween had already graduated from Harvard when . . . Jewish quotas were instituted. But his prominence in Cambridge challenged both Harvard’s president and its elite culture “that intended to keep outsiders . . . out of their school,” Eleff said.
In 1922, a Yale University alumni committee investigated the basketball program after a team of Jewish players from the Atlas Club beat the all-Gentile Yale team 42-22 in a charity game in front of the largest crowd in New Haven history. . . . The committee blamed anti-Semitic coaching, and after Jewish players were recruited, Yale went in 1923 from “the cellar to the championship,” [as one historian] wrote. But talented Jewish players were exceptions to the rule, whose athletic prowess overshadowed their Jewish identities.