When Ed Meadows, a young, tough, not extraordinarily good Chicago Bear end, caught Detroit's Bobby Layne with a battering blind-side tackle last month while Layne was not carrying the ball, he did two things: he removed Bobby from the game via a concussion, and he set off a storm of protest against dirty football. "Meadows should have brought a blackjack," said the Detroit coach, Buddy Parker. "They had to get Layne, and they got him with deliberately dirty football." Parker's accusation was a serious one; if a game which can produce the fine men who graced the Silver Anniversary All-America (SI, Dec. 24) is being destroyed by the moral decay dirty play implies, the loss is ultimately everyone's.
No proof was adduced to support Parker's accusation, but the incident brought into sharp focus the growing feeling among fans, players and coaches that pro football is dirty. Sports Illustrated's Tex Maule last week questioned Bert Bell, the stubborn, honest commissioner of the National Football League for the last 11 years, on how serious the situation really is and on what Bell—and the league—is going to do about it.
Q: Do you think that pro football is dirty and getting dirtier?
A: [Growled in the rasp which is Bell's speaking voice] No. I don't believe there is dirty football. I never have. Sure, there are flare-ups. But I have never seen a maliciously dirty football player in my life and I don't believe there are any maliciously dirty players in the National Football League.
January 21, 1957
Q: How do you explain the protests from coaches, owners and fans?
A: I believe this. If you go back seven or eight years, three or four teams dominated the league. So games and individual plays weren't always as vital as they are now. Now any team can beat any other team in the league, and every game is important. The players get more excited, and officials have maybe 50 or 60 judgment calls to make in every game. They don't come equipped with radar or a zoomar lens, either. Now you got to remember every team uses movies, too. They can look for things and find things the officials may miss. But the situation is this—the movies aren't always right, either. The other day a man who is competent told me he would bet $10,000 he could set up a couple of cameras four feet on either side of the 50-yard line and get completely different pictures.
Q: How about the protest the Chicago Cardinals made against the Chicago Bears on their Dec. 9 game in which the Cards claimed their movies showed over 20 fouls by the Bears which were not called by the officials? Did you see those movies?
A: Wolfner [managing director of the Cardinals] sent the thing to me. I agree some mistakes were made. Nothing malicious.
Q: Then why did you refuse to let the Cardinals give a public showing of their game film?
A: I didn't say they couldn't show the film. What I said was that they couldn't show the thing and stop it whenever they wanted so they could point out the mistakes of the officials. I will never condone anyone holding the officials up to public ridicule.
Q: Has any owner or coach ever complained to you about "hatchet men"?
A: No. I never heard of a "hatchet man" in pro football, if you mean by that a player who is sent into a game deliberately to injure an opponent. A hatchet man wouldn't live a year in pro football.
Q: Do you mean by that the opposing teams would take care of him?
A: I go back to Davey O'Brien, the little TCU back who played for the Eagles. Somebody fouled Davey once. That guy got straightened out a little bit—in language—and every time he got hit. It was a little harder every time he got hit.
Q: Have you heard of a play called "dead dog" in which the quarterback simply keeps the ball and the rest of the team goes to work on a dirty player on the other team?
A: Dead dog? No, I never heard of that. Sure, if a guy is looking for trouble, he gets it. That's true. He'll take a pretty fair thumping from the players, but legally. You figure, too, if a guy gets in too much trouble, he's no good to his team and the coach will get rid of him. That's another reason no dirty player can last in the pros.
Q: Twice this season, Bear opponents have lost their quarterback early. George Shaw of the Baltimore Colts was hurt and, of course, Layne of the Lions. Do you think any team ever deliberately tries to knock out a quarterback?
A: Well, the quarterback is a natural target, but how long have these quarterbacks played? Take Otto Graham. He played 10 years and never missed a game. Most quarterbacks don't get hurt. No team ever deliberately tries to get the quarterback.
Q: Do you think there should be a more stringent penalty for a foul which results in a player's injury and deprives a team of his services? Say a penalty box something like hockey uses?
A: No. It hasn't helped much in hockey, has it? How in hell can you play with 10 men? You might as well forfeit.
Q: You have already said that your officials make mistakes. Are you satisfied with your officials as a group?
A: No. I am never satisfied with anything. I think we have the best officials in the world, but I think they could be better, too. It's hard to get real good officials. A guy doesn't make much money the first four or five years he officiates—maybe three, five hundred dollars a year, so he quits. Only guys left are schoolteachers and YMCA workers, and they got the time but they aren't suited. They're used to placating people and handling kids, not football players.
Q: Are you doing anything to improve the officiating?
A: Yeah, I've got a resolution now I'm going to present at the league meeting. Each home team will have to furnish the league office with a game film within 48 hours after a game. Then Mike Wilson, our chief official, will go over the movies and pick out the mistakes and take them up with the officials. We're trying to get ex-pros as officials, too. Then we'll put them in the spot nearest where they played—like Don Looney, a former end, will be a field judge down where the ends go when they're on a pass pattern. That way, the official understands the situation and so does the player.
Q: One of your rules on TV coverage prevents cameras from staying on a fight on the field. Why?
A: I don't believe for the best interests of football or the best interests of the women and children who watch football it should be shown. We're selling a product just like, say, Atlantic Refining is selling one. You don't see them putting out a story about a bad situation or a bad month, do you? If people want to watch fights, let them tune in on Wednesday night.