Sports News Without Access, Favor, Or Discretion

Tough Guys Don't Dance

Earlier this year the New York Times reposted a 1976 article by Clark Booth about violence and football. It originally appeared in The Real Paper.

Well-worth your time:

Of all the studs who played football in the NFL during the Vietnam years (and were presumably eligible), only one went to war, almost got his foot blown off and returned with a Purple Heart and Bronze Star.

The only one was Steeler running back Rocky Bleier, whose wartime experiences, not so oddly, offer some insights. To Bleier, there are some interesting parallels between survival in war and survival in pro football. He says:

U.S. Army
Vietnam Veteran and former Pittsburgh Steeler Rocky Bleier poses with Capt. Doug Larsen, who tries on Mr. Bleier’s four Super Bowl rings, at the North Dakota National Guard’s 2009 Safety Conference in 2009.“War injuries and football injuries. The experiences and the reactions are quite the same. In battle action, you’re concerned with something more than where you got shot. You’re concerned with where the enemy might be. You want to know where you are.

“You could be shot in the stomach. Your leg could be broken and you wouldn’t even know it. You would just go on.

“Now you [pointing at me] could twist your ankle and not walk in a week. I could play on that ankle a whole week. The focal point of my attention is not on that injury, it’s on getting back into the game. It’s the intensity of what’s happening at the moment. It’s the hostility of the moment. Medically, I can’t understand it. But psychologically I can.”

War and pro football. The stakes, to many, are about the same. As is the importance they attach to it. War and death. The two images that bring the most clarity to the discussion. The metaphor works. Even the commissioner sees it that way.

Asked at his Friday news conference if he could explain the mounting incidence of serious injury in the game, Alvin “Pete” Rozelle replied, “The problem is we have bigger, faster people banging into each other more often. It’s like having a BB gun [the way the game was] and a cannon [the way the game has become]. The cannon hits with much greater force.” End of discussion.

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