Publish date:



Punishment Is a Crime, Part 2 of your series on brutality in football (Aug. 14 et seq. is a shockingly revealing compendium of bad sportsmanship. I think this article will go a long way toward alerting the average fan to the problems of modern-day football.

However, John Underwood goes too far in placing the blame for such practices solely on the shoulders of coaches. Some of his phrases—"probably as honorable and caring as most," "reluctance to face reality," "fearful of change," "would a 30-yard penalty make a coach more conscious of his humanity?"—make coaches appear to be violence-loving, bloodthirsty hoodlums who are devouring our nation's young sportsmen.

I am a coach and I will not deny that some coaches fit the stereotype Underwood describes. But he almost totally disregards the attitudes and situations that contribute to the development of this type of coach. Underwood briefly mentions the pressure to win, and that is indeed a factor in the teaching of brutal techniques. However, he ignores the fact that many of our coaches are not properly trained or subsidized to handle their enormous responsibilities. I shudder to think how many practices I teach that are incorrect or unnecessarily violent not because I am "fearful of change," but because I lack sufficient finances and time and the patience of my employers to learn.
Lindsay, Texas

While Tom Landry calls for "a penalty for every blow to a player's head," he apparently condones the actions of his assistant, Mike Ditka, in teaching players to hit an opponent in the chest with their helmets and then bring both arms up and, with both fists, hit the man in the groin.

While John Madden calls for special rules to protect the quarterback, he condones the actions of George Atkinson and Jack Tatum and the rest of his team.

Sure, the coaches are to blame, but it's always "the other coach, not me."
Melrose, Mass.

I am all for taking cheap shots out of football. But until the people who play the game—the healthy ones, not the injured—say, "Wait! This is crazy!" brutality is not going to stop. No action will be taken until players are willing to quit the game. As long as the players continue to accept brutality, football will condone it.
Fresno, Calif.

If Gene Calhoun, the lawyer, Big Ten referee and "voice in the wilderness," needs a "30-second bulletin: FROM NOW ON, NO LATE HITS" to help clear up the excessive violence in football, then he should check his mailbox for possible theft. It sounds to me as though somebody is pinching his rule books.

I don't understand why he needs a directive to tell him that he should call holding every time he sees it, or that he should call hits out of bounds or extra hits on a fallen quarterback. The next time Calhoun sees holding, regardless of intent, field position or possible criticism from coaches or sports-writers, he should throw his flag.
Greenbrae, Calif.

You want players and coaches to regain their respect for officials? You want the number of unsportsmanlike acts reduced? Then how about making the penalty for such infractions one point instead of a measly 15 yards? That would surely bring about some changes—and fast.
Rochester, N.Y.

Although I haven't finished reading John Underwood's series, I'm surprised and somewhat saddened that he has as yet placed no blame on the fans' shoulders. Those who control the game are going to mold it into whatever makes the most bucks. Fans pay to see and experience a vicarious pleasure in football's violence, or so the controlling interests seem to think. I admit I enjoy watching a pulling guard blast a cornerback off his feet, but watching quarterbacks being crippled is nothing short of sickening. The fastest way to get rules changed would be a lobbying effort by the fans themselves.

I hold little hope for any such movement, but thanks to John Underwood for bringing the injury statistics to our attention.

It's hard to determine who the chief villains are: the coaches who resist change, the rules committees who fear what change would do to the game, helmet manufacturers who produce the piece of equipment involved in so many of the game's serious injuries and deaths, or the lawyers.

Apparently some would say the lawyers. After all, they "smell blood." They are filing suits. One young paraplegic's lawyers got a fee of $1 million. Liability insurance for schools is skyrocketing. Instead of ambulance chasers there are now "jock chasers."

Give the lawyers a break. While others talk about the problems of sports injuries, only lawyers are accomplishing anything. So what if there was a million-dollar fee? It was most likely a contingency fee—i.e., if the case had been lost, the lawyer would have gotten no fee. Could the young man who recovered the other $2 million have afforded the fees if the case had not been won? Where is the sympathy for Attorney Ron Mix, who lost the four-month-long civil jury trial? If a cure for crippling injuries is found, does anyone care how much money the inventor earns for his work? Apparently, only if the inventor happens to be an attorney.
Evansville, Ind.

I commend SI for taking responsibility for airing the problems besieging football through the excellent series on brutality. Now, who else will accept responsibility and take action? Will the fans boycott football until it again becomes a sport in the true sense? Will coaches and players mend their ways? Will the governing bodies of the game revise the rules?

I am afraid that what is happening in football parallels what is happening in our society: too few are willing to take responsibility. If so, a great national sport will eventually self-destruct.
San Diego

It is my firm opinion that this article is the finest thing you have done. It is rare for a magazine to take so responsible a position. It is to be expected that vested interests will assail you from many directions. However, your stature and documented facts will easily support your stand. Press on in your efforts to bring reason and safety to football.

Thank you for your informative article on the Bill Walton dispute (Off on a Wronged Foot, Aug. 21). It helped to clear up at least a little of the controversy. It is great to know that there is still one basketball player willing to stick up for his beliefs. The abuse of drugs in professional sports is getting completely out of hand, and it must stop somewhere. Maybe Walton's campaign against the use of pain-killers in professional basketball will be in vain, but I'm sure he will give it his all.
Altoona, Pa.

Bill Walton has not been sound physically since he left high school. To blame one of a series of joint and foot injuries on an allegedly improper application of pain-modifying drugs seems to be unjustified. One must also consider the length of the NBA season and the frequency with which teams play. Unfortunately, these factors have combined to truncate a great athlete's career.
Portland, Ore.

As a basketball fan and as an orthopedic surgeon, I was appalled at the type of medical care afforded Bill Walton and Bob Gross for their injuries. I had no idea that an orthopedist would resort to the use of repeated Xylocaine injections (particularly three injections in a single game), or the use of corticosteroids such as Decadron in an effort to keep a professional athlete competitive.

There can be no question that the use of drugs such as Decadron predisposes to softening of the bones about the foot and ankle and subsequent fracture. There can be no question that the injections of Xylocaine, even if not directly into the area of the subsequent fracture, predispose to excessive stress on the foot and ankle by removing the protective control of pain.

A doctor's responsibility is to the ultimate welfare of his patient, not only on the short term but also after the termination of his playing career. It should certainly not be directed primarily toward the team's won-lost record.
San Francisco

You stated that no one had to tell Bill Walton that "even if all the players were in perfect health but him, the Blazers would go nowhere in the playoffs." I can almost guarantee you that no one would tell him such a thing. I work in a very busy barbershop with Blazer fans coming and going all day long. It was the opinion of everyone who came in that if there hadn't been so many injuries to other players on the team, Portland would have had the championship, regardless of Walton's injuries.

Also, according to my customers, there are no more Walton fans in Portland. You neglected to mention that when the Blazers offered to refund season tickets, seven were turned in while 200 people wrote letters asking to buy them.
Portland, Ore.

Hearty congratulations to Ron Fimrite for his compelling article on sore arms (Stress, Strain and Pain, Aug. 14). People too often fail to realize how fragile a major league pitcher's career is. Less than two years ago, at the age of 15, I suffered a shoulder injury that I have since self-diagnosed as similar to that of Steve Busby's torn rotator cuff. After years of dominating opponents three or more years older than myself, I was reduced to something less than a mediocre pitcher. Perhaps because I had other interests (academic), I did not have the determination and self-discipline necessary for total recuperation—the agonizing pain didn't help, either—and I have since resigned myself to doing no more than playing catch with my kid brother. It makes me appreciate what these major leaguers must go through.
Whitestone, N.Y.

Ron Fimrite implies that Smokey Joe Wood's career came to a pathetic end after an injury in 1913. He fails to mention that, after the injury and despite great pain. Wood posted a respectable 33-13 record during the next three seasons and led the American League with a 1.49 ERA in 1915.

Fimrite states that Wood returned as a utility man in 1917, going hitless in 10 games. Wood pitched in five games with Cleveland that season, and in the war year of 1918 was given a chance to make the Indians as an outfielder through the intercession of his ex-Red Sox roommate, Tris Speaker. Always a decent hitter (.290 in his miraculous 1912 season), Smokey Joe hit .296 in 119 games. Over the next four years he played in 341 games as a semi-regular, was on Cleveland's 1920 World Series championship team and had averages of .366 in 1921 and .297 in 1922.

Though the Indians would gladly have included him on their 1923 roster, Wood accepted the position of baseball coach at Yale, where he remained until 1942—hardly the tragic figure Fimrite suggests he was.

In early May of this year I met and talked with Smokey Joe Wood. Smokey Joe will be 89 this October and he's still chipper. He fell off a ladder at his home and again hurt his right arm and shoulder. He had a tough time of it for a while in the hospital, but he's home now cheering on the 1978 Red Sox.
West Haven, Conn.

The item in SCORECARD (Aug. 14) regarding Hoyt Wilhelm fails to mention another of his feats. In his first major league at bat he hit a homer—and never hit another in 21 years.
Berwyn, Ill.

Address editorial mail to SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, Time & Life Building, Rockefeller Center, New York, New York, 10020.