Bowling: Cox ahead of game on health

Jun. 05, 2013 @ 10:13 AM

Bob Cox is a member of the Duke Athletics Hall of Fame. Cox was a fullback on the 1933 football team that went 9-1 under Coach Wallace Wade. Cox was named All- Southern Conference after leading that team with 11 touchdowns. Not only was Cox a great athlete at Duke, but he served Duke in many coaching and teaching positions from 1942 to 1978. He was an assistant football coach from 1943 to 1970, head men’s tennis coach from 1943 to 1952 and again from 1960 to 1970, and also was a professor in the physical education department from 1942 to 1978.  As you can see, not many people in Duke’s past have served longer or with more distinction.
The 1933 team at Duke was really the first year that Duke gained national prominence in football, and Cox helped lead the way. The Blue Devils beat powerful Tennessee 10-2 in what was then called Duke Stadium. Tennessee came into this game with a 28 game unbeaten streak; they had not lost a game in three years. In a 21-0 win over UNC, Cox intercepted a pass and ran it back for a touchdown. This was an era when players rarely came off the field, and Cox was a stellar defensive player as well as being one of the best fullbacks in the nation. 
Duke was 9-0 when they lost the last regular season game to Georgia Tech in Atlanta by a score of 6-0. The Rose Bowl committee had representatives at the game in Atlanta to extend a bid to Duke had they beat Georgia Tech.  Duke would eventually play in the Rose Bowl in 1939.
Robert “Bob” Cox was also quite a scholar, as his many years of being a professor at Duke would indicate. In 1940, he received a master’s degree from Columbia. In a thesis he wrote that year, his subject was titled Smoking and Health, which he received an A for. Most of his insights and findings in this paper, which I recently looked at, are still relevant today. Cox took a class called Personal Hygiene Applied under Jesse Feiring Williams, one of the most well known physical educators of the 20th century, who taught at Columbia University, and the thesis he wrote was in this class under Williams. Following are some of the findings of Cox in the paper written in 1940.
“Practically all athletic coaches have training rules against their players smoking during the season. They know that smoking has its telling effects on those who smoke, such as the smokers are short-winded, show signs of fatigue quicker and don’t have the ‘pep’ that some of the non-smokers have. Their mental reactions are slower, and this is bad, for the players must remember the signals and plays, as well as pass required class work. We know that physiologically smoking is harmful to the systems so we can say it is more so in growing active athletes. We see athletes daily who smoke and still are the star players, but regardless of the effect they would be a little better if they didn’t smoke. Investigations in this field showed that tobacco is a handicap to the aspirant for athletic honors.”
On whether young people should smoke, Cox wrote, “The growing boy is injured by tobacco. His growth is interfered with, his heart is made irritable, and his stomach disturbed. If the boy thinks he wants to smoke, he should wait until he is twenty-five years old; then with developed body and a wiser mind, let him make the choice, cognizant of its dangers and limitations.” On whether women should smoke, Cox cited a report that found “Smoking by pregnant women produces an increase in pulse rates of unborn children, and four ounces of breast milk from mothers who smoke six to eight cigarettes per day has been found to contain enough nicotine to kill a frog.”

Lewis Bowling teaches at N.C. Central University and Duke University. He is the author of several books on fitness and sports. His website is He can be reached at 919-530-6224 and at