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Original Issue


I have been involved in football, off and on, for 40 years—as a player, a parent, a high school team physician and, for the past five years, as an official working high school games. I fervently hope that the popularity and availability of your magazine will be able to accomplish with John Underwood's article An Unfolding Tragedy (Aug. 14 et seq.) what repeated articles in sports medicine journals and officials' handbooks have not been able to do—effect a change, not just in rules but also in the philosophy that perpetuates brutality in football.

As long as football is played as a junior version of World War II with players as cannon fodder, coaches as personifications of Patton and alumni who emulate the audiences of Roman gladiatorial extravaganzas, rule changes and equipment modifications will be only temporizing. I am proud that the National Federation of State High School Associations led the way in outlawing blocks below the waist on kicks, spearing, butt blocking and face-to-numbers tackling. The resistance from coaches here was transitory.

I love football. It does teach valuable lessons. Soccer is a game of mediocrity. I firmly believe, however, that until the macho sadism of spectators, alumni, coaches, sportswriters and players is modified, football will go the way of bareknuckle prizefighting. My respective hats are off to you for a very responsible, courageous piece of sports journalism.

John Underwood's article opened my eyes to the potentially damaging job I have been doing in teaching the head-to-numbers blocking and tackling techniques. I am 24 and was always taught to do it that way. I thought it was the only way. I coach high-school-age boys and now realize the importance of deemphasizing the helmet as a weapon. I am now committed to teaching shoulder-first techniques. Any coach who is genuinely concerned about the welfare of his players will make the same decision.

I am a college student whose greatest ambition is to become a football coach. As an advocate of butt blocking and tackling, I saw your article on brutality in football as a threat to my coaching methods. Now, after reading the story, I can face the fact that, like so many others, I was afraid of change. I hope you have awakened enough people so that the necessary rule changes can be brought about immediately.
Battle Creek, Mich.

My coaches aren't teaching head-first tactics. They teach us to tackle with the shoulder and to block with the shoulder. But in my opinion—and I am a high school senior—the quickest and most devastating way to stop a running back is to hit him with your head. I've been playing for six years now, and when I started I knew the risks I was taking. Football is a man's sport. If they're going to do a lot of rules changing, they're going to make it a girl's game.

I bet that half of these guys who are changing the rules never knew the satisfaction of hitting somebody as hard as you can.
Mobile, Ala.

In junior and senior high I was dubbed a "killer," a "headhunter" who would tackle with "reckless abandon." This was all well and good until my senior year in high school when I saw a Memphis State player named Bill Crumby become paralyzed after he and a teammate collided head-on while trying to tackle the runner on a kickoff play. This bore heavily on my mind as I played the next week. I could no longer bring myself to tackle with my head.

No one loves football more than I, but my views on the sport have changed.

It is the saddest and most tragic of ironies that almost immediately after your story came out a young professional football player named Darryl Stingley was paralyzed—and from a helmet hit.

Your article couldn't have been more to the point. When I read it, I still had a headache from participating in a high school all-star game the night before. The game was more of a street fight. People cheered the late hits and the punching. I find the coaches don't teach these techniques, but the crowds urge this type of play on. Don't eliminate the helmets, eliminate the crowds.
Canoga Park, Calif.

For a man who "loves the game," John Underwood will do more to intensify the "crisis in football" than the helmet and the few misdirected coaches combined. As a high school coach of 20 years, I support his attempts to soften the outer covering of the helmet, to rid the profesion of the few remaining coaches who teach punishing the opponents with the helmet, and to expose the failure of some officials to call illegal use of the helmet as clearly outlined in the rules.

But the hysteria developed by Underwood and authors of other studies on the topic is a result of faulty definitions of injury. Most "injuries" are contusions, sprains, etc., whose effects, for the most part, are short-lived. Most coaches annually attend clinics where trainers and physicians present the latest techniques to prevent injuries.

If football were as brutal as the article suggests, there would not be 1,750,000 people playing the game. Certainly fathers who had participated would not allow their sons to become involved if the experience were as physically devastating as Underwood implies.

With lovers of the game like Underwood, and with friends like SI, which displays a cover labeled "Brutality," who needs enemies? Friends and lovers, thanks but no thanks.
Football Coach
Windham High School
Willimantic, Conn.

I have been playing organized football since I was 8. I have watched as the spear, butt and spike have replaced the shoulder block and tackle. A week ago, while-engaging in a drill during a practice session with the semipro Baltimore Warriors, I was the recipient of a "spear" to the head that was delivered with such force that my own helmet shattered into three pieces. Fortunately, I was not injured. Since then, I have read Underwood's article and seen a tape of the tragic, though legal, hit by Jack Tatum on Darryl Stingley. I retired from the Warriors yesterday. Come September, my 8-year-old son will be playing soccer.

I congratulate SI for its willingness to address critical ethical questions that must be faced if pro sport is to play a positive role in our nation's future. I respect you for having the guts to act as a social critic for the sporting world. Keep it up.
Beverly, Mass.

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