Buried under the avalanche of the billions of dollars the game has generated, football's order has collapsed and chaos reigns. The only constant in today's game is brutality, and it is being fostered, not quelled. The game has reached the point where only violence holds, and only the most violent and most ruthless can survive on the AstroTurf long enough to collect their outsize paychecks.... Monday night's game is a classic example. Cincinnati's quarterback and the team's best receiver were both "taken out"—Ken Anderson by a late shot and the receiver by an elbow to the face. Both blows were absolutely intentional, designed from their inception to violently incapacitate the two leading Cincinnati players.... These days, [brutality] is the strategy.... With the best players gone, the game is no contest. I'm giving it up, after 40 years."
—JOHN COLE, writing in the Maine Times, explaining last October why he was surrendering his place in front of the television set after a four-decade love affair with pro football.
In 1976 a 42-year-old professor of psychiatry at the University of California at San Diego wrote a book about his experience as an unpaid locker-room analyst for the San Diego Chargers. In The Nightmare Season, Dr. Arnold Mandell detailed the shocking use of amphetamines by professional football players desperate to get any edge in a dog-eat-dog battle for dominance and dollars. The season was 1973; for a while, the nightmare was mainly Dr. Mandell's. His attempts to a
lert the National Football League to this monstrous situation, and to wean the players under his care from dangerous street "speed" by giving them prescription drugs backfired. In April of 1974 the NFL made (in Mandell's words) "sacrificial lambs" of the Chargers. At an awkward press conference, the league announced that it had fined and placed on probation the owner of the team (Eugene V. Klein), its general manager and coach (Harland Svare) and eight players and banned Mandell from further contact with players.
Unfortunately for the NFL, Mandell did not then shut up. Writing in Psychology Today in 1975, he said a "drug agony rages, silently as a plague, through the body of professional football," and that "a clumsy, ham-handed press conference at the end of the season would not solve a problem that is as occupational a disease in pro football as surely as silicosis is in mining."
August 27, 1978
When the upcoming publication of The Nightmare Season was announced in the fall of '76, Mandell says he was warned by Svare that "they"—he didn't say who "they" were—"would sue me or try to get my license."
The book came out.
And in September of 1977 the Los Angeles Times reported that Mandell said "the football industry persuaded the state of California" to take action against him for prescribing drugs illegally for non-medicinal purposes. Indeed, the state did take action, for whatever motive. After a 15-day hearing before an administrative officer, Mandell was found guilty of "overprescribing" drugs. He received a five-year probation but did not lose his license. His right to prescribe drugs was suspended.
When the decision was announced, psychiatrists and physicians across the country rallied around their colleague and launched Concerned Health Professionals for Mandell; a committee was formed to fund his appeal and overturn the ruling (an appeal is forthcoming). The Clinical Psychiatry News wondered if the penalties were "retribution for his fight against drug abuse in professional football."
In a letter to the L.A. Times, Dr. Emery Zimmerman, a physician and a narcotics expert, said the NFL's "attempt to divert attention by promoting a courtroom dissection of Mandell destroys my confidence in [the league's] ability to deal with this difficult problem. The issue may be too important to be left in [the league's] hands. If drugs increase gate receipts, then the owners, as indirect pushers, are curiously close to the position [in which] they have placed Mandell. [For myself,] I have no further interest to watch drug-crazed men bloody each other on Sunday afternoon."
Despite being put on probation, Mandell continues his crusade. "I haven't done what I set out to do," he says, "which is to get amphetamines out of football." He says they are "the single factor that causes unnecessary violence in pro football today"—not in low doses for fatigue or as appetite depressants, "but in enormous doses, as high as 150 milligrams. Higher than ever.
"People ask [NFL Commissioner] Pete Rozelle why so many quarterbacks went down last season from late and nasty hits. The answer can be found in the nearest pillbox. I'd be interested to see what would happen to the incidence of orthopedic surgery in the NFL if amphetamines were banned and everybody had to take a urine test before games."
The normal "diet" pill or capsule—Benzedrine, Dexedrine, Eskatrol—contains five to 15 milligrams of amphetamine. The prolonged, excited "high" from one pill is familiar not only to fat people but also to long-haul truckers and students cramming for examinations. Imagine what it is like, says Dr. Mandell, to gulp down 30 pills at one time. "The result is a prepsychotic paranoid rage state," he says. "A five-hour temper tantrum that produces the late hits, the fights, the unconscionable assaults on quarterbacks that are ruining pro football. They're at war out there, and the coaches, even if they're not aware [of the drugs' effects], are the generals. Coaches know the game is ideally played in controlled anger. They hang up clippings, and talk vendettas. Players get half crazy anyway, and if 60% of them have their heads filled with amphetamines, the injury projection is enormous.
"For the player in this state the negotiation of rules becomes highly complicated, and easily broken if the referee isn't looking. That's when you get the elbows, the hands being stepped on, the knees in the face, the kicking."
Mandell's expertise is in biomedical and pharmacological psychiatry, with 22 years in research, 18,000 hours treating patients. He has written six books and 230 articles in his field. He serves on the editorial board of 11 scientific journals, is past president of the Society of Biological Psychiatry and has received several federal grants, including $500,000 during the last six years for a study of the effects of amphetamines on the brain.
In short, Mandell may be naive but he is no quack, nor is it likely that he is the irresponsible drug dispenser the NFL sought to have him appear. A wiry 5'6", 14-mile-a-day jogger with a Phi Beta Kappa key and a sunburst of curly hair, he has an easy manner that ingratiated him to the Chargers. They called him Arnie and entrusted to him their deepest secrets. He became a close friend of Svare.
Mandell says it took him almost a year to "realize what was going on." He now calls it "The Sunday Syndrome."
"Ordinarily, most football players are warm, loving, decent human beings," Mandell says. "They aren't drug addicts. They have to convert themselves to attain a state of hair-trigger readiness. For a while, I thought it was pure physiology, a group of men who somehow had this capacity.
"They'd come in on Sunday morning, lighthearted and well dressed. No signs. Gradually they'd begin to change. About 11 o'clock the tension would start to rise. Some would get loud and boisterous, and become more obscene. Others would withdraw, staring. Some would pace in repetitive turns. Those are all signs, together with a wider-based gait, an added clumsiness.
"The second time I went through the tunnel to the field, I accidentally hit the elbow of an offensive tackle I knew pretty well—a bright guy, a nice guy. He banged me into the wall. Really unloaded on me. Later he apologized. That year we played at Houston, and one of the sweetest guys on the defensive teams—I'll never forget—was literally drooling. It was [Quarterback Dan] Pastorini's first year with the Oilers. The guy said, 'A rookie quarterback! It's like letting me into a candy store!'
"Amphetamines in large doses produce a paranoid psychosis. That means the guy doing the damage actually thinks the other guy is out to get him. It's Good Guys vs. Bad Guys. The quarterback, as the figurehead of the opposition, is the No. 1 Bad Guy. It's open season on him. I laugh when NFL players talk about the dangers of synthetic turf and helmets, and all the while they're permitting amphetamine-crazed athletes to go on the field and assault their quarterbacks. You expect to see the kind of thing that happened to Bradshaw last year. When he got speared in the back, it almost gave him whiplash."
Analgesics as well as stimulants, amphetamines mask pain—pain Mandell says would act at least as a partial deterrent to such mayhem.
"An enraged person who does not feel pain is a dangerous human being," he says, "not only to others, but to himself. Early on I had one player who lost 20 pounds over a weekend. He was coughing up blood before games. I asked him how he could play in such a condition. He reached in his pocket and pulled out a handful of 'black beauties'—street speed you buy in Tijuana. The next day he played super.
"This is not called stupid in the pros, it's called heroic. Amphetamines are controlled substances and therefore subject to stringent FDA regulations regarding their prescription, and their use without proper prescription is absolutely prohibited by the NFL. But even Fran Tarkenton has defended their use. In small doses, they give you the kind of workdrug high you might want to increase efficiency. But in large doses that nervous alert becomes something else, a rage players feel they must have in a game that requires violent aggression at a precise point in time.
"Amphetamines are certainly psychologically, and possibly physically, addictive. The post-use depression is severe. Sexual appetite diminishes. Some suffer temporary impotence. But you can't tell a veteran player that there is another way. He says, 'Doc, I'm not about to go out there one-on-one against a guy who's grunting and drooling and coming at me with big dilated pupils unless I'm in the same condition.'
"Harland Svare told me amphetamines weren't new at all in the NFL. The Giants [for whom he played during 1955-60] 'used 'em, like baseball players use 'em today—in moderate doses, when we were tired or hung over.' I can see that. I'm not a prohibitionist. But along about the mid-'60s the doses began to increase, and kept going up. I won't tell you who said it, but one Charger told me, The difference between a star and superstar is sometimes the difference between a dose and a superdose.'
"The older the player, the more likely his dependence. He gets desperate. I was trying to get one guy to lower his dosage. He told me, It's easy for you to talk, Doc, but I'm making $65,000 a year. If I lose this job, tomorrow I'm a bartender. I've got three kids, a home....' "
Mandell's evaluations coincide with the conclusion arrived at by Dr. L. Alan Johnson of San Diego in his doctoral thesis in psychology. Dr. Johnson's research dates back to 1970 when he questioned 93 players from 13 NFL teams and found 56 (60%) admitted using amphetamines regularly, the majority at that time getting them from trainers, doctors or teammates, but some from the street. Dr. Johnson says he had to abandon the study when the NFL allegedly instructed players not to cooperate with him.
"Quarterbacks hardly take them at all," says Mandell, who has examined "more than 100" players. "Amphetamines restrain adaptive capacity. You don't think or reason as well. A quarterback needs mini-second adaptiveness. Running backs and wide receivers might take only small doses for the same reason. But in the trenches it doesn't matter. They don't need that kind of coordination. The big users are the defensive linemen."
Mandell says that when he realized people were "buying tickets to see speed freaks try to kill each other, the ugliness really upset me. I think if the average fan could spend a game on the sidelines, he wouldn't go anymore. Svare told me once, This isn't the game I grew up with on the Giants. This is a cruel, win-at-any-price thing, without fellowship.'
"I tried to alert the league in 1973. I proposed urine tests. They told me it was an invasion of privacy. The players wouldn't stand for it. Why not? They do it in European soccer. They've got rules against amphetamines in the Olympics. You could do it with a simple saliva test. You wouldn't have to test everybody, just two or three on each team. A spot check. If a test is positive, you go further."
"The NFL won't get involved because it has to protect its image. I offered to conduct a workshop on amphetamines at an NFL team physicians' meeting in 1973. I got an invitation. A week before I was to go, Harland called and said Rozelle didn't want me there. That it was 'bad public relations.' Congress was going to have hearings in 1974. They got quashed."
The drug subculture that exists in sport has been examined by this magazine in the past, with expert testimony from men like Dr. Robert Kerlan, former team physician of the Los Angeles Dodgers (SI, June 23, 1969). Professional athletes, reflecting society as a whole, are well tuned to drug use, to the proposition they might need help to face extreme pain, or to mask it. Team physicians stuff them with codeine, pump their knees full of Xylocaine, shoot their inflamed joints with cortisone. Jim Lynch, the former Notre Dame and Kansas City Chiefs linebacker, says he found pro football such a "cold business" that he was not surprised by amphetamine use. "It's peer pressure. It's a badge of courage to play with pain, even if it's not always courageous. It can be stupid. But it's done because if you sit down you're an outcast."
The incidence of drug use in pro football, which is absurd to deny, is not the question here, however. The injuries it causes is the issue. Other doctors besides Mandell have spoken out. Dr. Donald Cooper of Oklahoma State has expressed in medical journals his concern over the "agitated, aggressive, sometimes paranoid behavior" of players high on amphetamines. "I've been on the sidelines in pro games where the physician watched a guy on his team jump offsides two or three times and said to me, I know that guy's problem—he's so high on amphetamines he can't see straight.' Sam Huff [the former All-Pro linebacker] told me the two times he tried them he got thrown out of the game for hitting late. He thought he was playing great."
The recent literature of pro football is laced with drug confessions. Chip Oliver [Raiders], Dave Meggyesy [Cardinals] and Bernie Parrish [Browns] gave graphic accounts of amphetamine use. Johnny Sample (Colts and Jets) said "most pro football players eat pep pills like candy." Meggyesy wrote that "most NFL trainers do more dealing in [amphetamines and barbiturates] than the average junky." He said the "violent and brutal player that television viewers marvel over on Saturdays and Sundays is often a synthetic product."
In They Call It a Game, Parrish said that when he and a teammate first tried amphetamines at the University of Florida, "We put some licks on people they won't ever forget.... Both the players and coaches were wondering what in the hell had got into us.... I never played another game in my college and professional career without taking either Dexedrine or Benzedrine." He said at the end he was up to 15 five-milligram tablets before each game "in the never-ending search for the magic elixir."
Although amphetamines are prohibited by the NCAA, Dr. Cooper says there is no telling how much speed is used by college players, but he knows it is available because "every exam week we get kids brought in who are zingy on them." There are indications of considerable use. Both Mandell and Johnson found that about 30% of the pros they studied took amphetamines in college.
Amphetamines aren't the only drug afflicting football. Last year, the Chicago Sun-Times said the more affluent pro players now opt for cocaine and called it "perhaps the biggest drug problem facing sports today." But part of the problem with coke is what happens if the police catch you with it. Randy Crowder and Donald Reese of the Miami Dolphins were nailed trying to sell a pound of cocaine last year and have just been released from the Dade County Stockade. Pittsburgh Defensive Tackle Ernie Holmes was found not guilty by an Amarillo jury that believed him when he said he didn't know that a souvenir silver bullet purchased "from a stranger in a rest-room of a motel" contained cocaine. Although cocaine is generally used as an after-hours mellower, the Sun-Times said that players under its influence are known to have "ripped apart their lockers while working themselves into an aggressive mental state for a game." The newspaper said that among its other wondrous attributes, coke leaves no chemical traces, has a less profound downer effect than amphetamines and results in no loss of sex drive. But it does cost $2,000 an ounce.
There is another cost players might well consider when they start filling their bodies with exotic chemicals as a means of getting "up" for games. That is the possible cost of their careers. So far, the users have also been the victims. Houston Ridge, a former San Diego defensive lineman, collected $302,000 after settling a suit against the Chargers in which he contended, although it was never directly ruled upon, that he had "been so high on amphetamines" in 1969 he didn't even know it when he broke his hip. In January 1971 former All-Pro Guard Ken Gray filed two lawsuits charging that his former employers, the St. Louis Cardinals, and team trainers and physicians caused him to take "potent, harmful, illegal and dangerous drugs...so that he could perform more violently as a player." The cases were settled out of court for an undisclosed amount of money.
But what happens, says Dr. Cooper, when the users make someone else the victim? What happens when a defensive lineman high on speed clubs a quarterback into a coma and the quarterback sues? What happens then?
The NFL maintains a stiff upper lip through all this. There is no "drug crisis" in the NFL says Jack Danahy, director of security for the NFL. "Alleged drug use in the league has been overstated in the past." NFL Director of Information Joe Browne cites the league's "strong drug preventative program," which has been educating players since 1971, as well as weekly counts of pills distributed by team physicians and trainers. Amphetamines? "As far as we can tell," says Browne, "they are not taking amphetamines."
He says this even as Danahy allows that he doesn't believe the pros are into cocaine "in the same way they used to be into amphetamines"—that is, not as a stimulant before a game. Danahy also says the NFL has found "no need for urine tests. It's demeaning to our players and unnecessary in the absence of a drug crisis."
In his book Broken Patterns, no less a figure than Fran Tarkenton argues that despite the widespread use of "all sorts" of uppers in the NFL—not by him, by other players, "especially...defensive linemen [seeking] a final plateau of endurance and competitive zeal"—society is wrong to find fault, especially because society "turns around and accepts the fact that most great pop musicians are stoned out of their minds when they perform."
Tarkenton's defense begins to fray a little at the edges when the point is made that very few 275-pound pop musicians try to sit on 175-pound quarterbacks. Where it unravels completely for the NFL is when one realizes that if the problem is one-tenth as bad as Mandell makes it, the league is shockingly remiss in dealing with it. In view of the injury rate, it is a delinquency the NFL can ill afford.
Trial, a news magazine for lawyers, pointed out that the lack of expertise in tracing the cause of injury in football today may be a crime. The magazine suggested a central registry of information.
That such information is not available is, if not criminal, a sad commentary on the good intentions of football. Despite the fact that it is our most injurious game, there is no national "center" for data, no computerized feedback to high schools, colleges and professional teams, no telling them that this or that ruptured tendon was caused by such-and-such a blow in the fourth quarter in the rain on a grass field in Bloomington, Ind. Worse, says Dr. William Clancy, the University of Wisconsin team physician and orthopedic surgeon, "No organized medical input [is made to the medical adviser to the NCAA rules committee] by the people who are the best authorities on injury. A lot of people who really don't know are making the input. Rules committees are afraid doctors will change the game."
A number of attempts by concerned medical men have been made to bridge this gap. Clancy is active in the American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine and in the American College of Sports Medicine. Sports medicine clinics, acting as centers for treatment and rehabilitation, are now operating all across the country. In some, such as Dr. Joseph Torg's clinic at the University of Pennsylvania, studies have been undertaken on head and neck injuries. But, at best, it is a disjointed effort, hampered by a flaw shared by the administrators of the game: seemingly, they don't care enough.
In 1974 Dr. Kenneth Clarke, then a professor of physical education at Penn State, formed the National Athletic Injury/Illness Reporting System (NAIRS) and funneled reports on 33 high school and college teams into the university's computer. His aim was to provide a "continuous awareness" of the definition of injuries, the degree of their severity and solutions they demanded.
The aim was high, the response low. For two years the research was funded mainly by sporting-goods manufacturers and grants from the National Federation of State High School Athletic Associations and the NCAA. Last year Clarke computed 175 reports from high schools and colleges. NAIRS, in turn, furnished subscribers with monthly reports and a year-end summary. Clarke also kept tabs on three NFL teams, but found "the league was not interested in our findings." He said that he had heard that NFL owners "didn't need any more data."
Dr. Clarke is now at Illinois. Penn State still provides computer time for NAIRS, and Clarke still gets nominal support from sporting-goods manufacturers for a shrinking staff that consists of two part-time paid graduate assistants and a secretary; Clarke himself is not paid. He is "very discouraged." The NCAA continues to put money into the program by the teaspoonful—a $1,500 grant last year—and without more funding Clarke "doubts the program will go on much longer."
He says his is a "realistic discouragement" because the commitment to keep injury records "has never been part of our sports heritage." He says, "Our concept of sport is that everybody is an expert, therefore we don't need all these sophisticated studies. It's an attitude problem."
A similar opinion was expressed as a result of the Stanford Research Institute 1975 report on injuries in the pros, which cost the NFL $35,000. SRI's executive director, Joe Grippo, says a comparable study would cost the NCAA "around $100,000." That is about one tenth of what one team will get in next year's Cotton Bowl. But Grippo says he doesn't think the NCAA wants to put out that kind of money. "They get a lot of free labor doing things the way they've been doing them," he says.
The NFL has not updated its study, unless you count its weekly rundown of injuries. That list is not for medical study. It is intended for coaches and bettors.
Why would a multimillion-dollar-a-year business that dispenses volumes of information on every aspect of play—and can tell you not only how tall Kenny Stabler is but also how many passes he threw in the second quarter of an exhibition game—not bother to update something as important as a study of the whys and wherefores of its injuries? Because, says Jan Van Duser, NFL director of personnel, "We feel that future studies would give us the same results. Rules, playing surfaces and the number of players have not changed that much."
Right, says the SRI's Joe Grippo. "Without dynamic changes in rules or conditions," he says, "it would be a waste of their money to update every year. We told them so. We don't like to do research for the sake of research. They'd get the same results."
Thus an ironic syllogism: the study found ways to curtail injuries through change; no change was made; ergo, why make any more studies?
Grippo believes that "labor problems in the NFL" have created a reluctance to face up to the problem. "They [players and management] have been at each other's throats for three years. They're afraid to tamper with the underpinnings of the game. You need player harmony to make sweeping changes."
The NFL player strike of 1975 accomplished two things other than the inflation of a left guard's value on the open market: it raised the level of distrust and militance between owners and players, and it made players more aware of the dollar value of their broken bones. As attorneys and agents ran amok in a suddenly widening no-man's-land between management and labor, the players, in sullen retribution for past slights, resorted to harsh business ethics that owners themselves had used for so many years.
When a business ethic takes over a sport, sport adapts. It is not the other way around. In business, you take your grievances to court, not to the locker room. Increasingly, injuries have become a cause for litigation. Nick Roman sued the Kansas City Chiefs for back pay and damages because he was "released when hurt, violating the contract." The Oakland Raiders' Terry Mendenhall was awarded $91,500 in 1975 because the Raiders' team-physician allegedly concealed a knee injury before Mendenhall was traded. Raymond Hickl of the Oilers, who had a history of head injuries, was hospitalized after being hit on his helmet by a player's knee. He decided to quit football. The Oilers decided not to pay him. Hickl took his case to the newly formed player-owner arbitration committee, which awarded him $4,000—after finding that the Oilers had made "little or no attempt to determine if Hickl had any previous injuries."
Last year Miami Dolphin Defensive End Bill Stanfill took owner Joe Robbie to arbitration. A four-year All-Pro, Stanfill was suffering from a chronic and serious back injury. He consulted three or four doctors, all of whom confirmed that he should not play. Stanfill told a Miami newspaperman that the Dolphins' offer to settle the remaining three years on his contract was such that he felt obliged to go to court. The arbitrator ruled in his favor, holding that the contract should be honored, that Stanfill would perform football-related activities, but not play football. Robbie had planned to appeal the decision, but the case was settled for an undisclosed sum before the appeal was heard.
There are no brass bands or waving pennants in courtrooms and emergency wards. With a gangland mentality allowed on the field, and with a sport whose leadership is more responsive to Nielsen ratings than injury reports, it is small wonder that the wolves (mostly lawyers) are at football's door. "Litigation is waking people up," says Clarke. "Litigation will be the cause of change." When owners are convinced that injuries are costing them money, an NFL referee told Jack Nix, a former player and official who is now in the insurance business, they will push for reform.
The NFL's response to the Stanford Research Institute report and SRI's recommendations on how to minimize injuries was no response at all. The pros made no appreciable rules changes for 1975 and the high injury rate continued. This year, in a grand show of concern for the game, the NFL made two rules changes: it is now possible for blocking linemen to "hold" a little more convincingly (to extend their arms and open their hands), and second "bumps" on receivers, once they are more than five yards down field, are prohibited. Injuries did not bring about these changes, however; according to the league's communique, Commissioner Rozelle was "concerned" that the scoring average in the league was at a 36-year low. The NFL had "to put more offense back in the game."
Nothing was said about putting more people back in the game. People who have been and are going to be injured by the game the way it is played.
The SRI report said a lot of things four years ago, but one of its most damning conclusions was something it did not say, in so many words. According to the SRI findings, only 1.3% of all injuries in the NFL involved acts that were illegal. That drew penalties. Those in the blood bond who excuse the violence cite this as proof that players are basically rules-abiding fellows and ought to be left alone.
There is another way to look at it. If "illegal acts" are not responsible for the injuries but there is an outrageous number of them, then the fault lies within the rules, in things that are happening that ought to be illegal.
Those who say you would "hurt" football by doing something about the rules hurt it infinitely more so by their passivity. It is a rough game. For that reason alone, it must be receptive to contemporary realities.
Football, furthermore, is a complicated game, made even more so by the fact that it is really three different games—high school football, college football, pro football—with differing rules, differing rules interpretations, differing philosophies and styles of play. Things that are not allowed at one level as too dangerous are standard operating procedure at another. The game is not even officiated the same way from level to level or, in some cases, from region to region on the same level.
This series has attempted to analyze what is causing all football to suffer an unacceptable injury rate. To ameliorate it, many changes in the rules, equipment, playing conditions and coaching philosophies have been proposed—some by coaches, some by physicians, some by officials, some by the author. Perhaps not all of these changes would work. But changes must be made, changes that will once again establish football as the prototypical American sport, a game in which skill is matched by physical commitment. Which is to say a game played within civilized boundaries, for if it is a game, you do not maim. On that unarguable basis the following rules—some of which were proposed in previous installments—should be instituted. In some cases, they might already be in effect at one level of football or another, but they should be made oportwide:
1) Outlaw all deliberate helmet hits—if the helmet makes the initial contact in blocking or in tackling, it is wrong.
2) Outlaw blocking below the waist on all downfield plays, or outside the legal "clipping" zone. Ban the "chop block" and its relatives at the line of scrimmage.
3) Instruct officials to enforce more stringently the rulings on late, redundant or unnecessary hits, be they on ballcarriers, receivers or quarterbacks. The criterion at its most rudimentary would be to make tacklers responsible for knowing when a player is stopped, helpless or already going down.
4) Institute a "grab" rule for defensive players tackling quarterbacks in the act of passing, in which only the arms and hands would be used. If this proves inadequate, give the quarterback in the act of passing the same protection the punter is given in the act of punting.
5) Institute a no-hit rule on receivers until they catch the ball.
6) Institute a no-hit rule on trailbacks in the option play. An offensive player without the ball should not be fair game.
7) When it is evident that quarterbacks are being hit on certain types of plays simply as a form of intimidation, warn the coach of the team responsible. If the practice persists, call personal fouls.
8) Crack down on all "momentum" tackles involving out-of-bounds plays and forward progress. A player on offense knows where the boundary lines are; defensive players should too.
9) Outlaw all forms of "clubbing" or forearm blows on ballcarriers and receivers; outlaw all head tackles save in interior line play.
10) Penalize all overt forms of bad sportsmanship, including end-zone dances and gestures, and taunting.
11) Increase the penalties for flagrant fouls and unsportsmanlike acts to 20 yards (minimum) or 30 yards; eject players and coaches who repeatedly dispute officials' calls.
Administratively, do the following:
1) Standardize the rules throughout the game, allowing only for differences dictated by age and physical development (e.g., length of quarters).
2) Make mandatory the representation of physicians and game officials on rules committees.
3) Establish a central registry for injuries, with input on their causes and computer readouts available for high school, college and pro teams. (The NFL can fund this project as a token of its appreciation for having the colleges and high schools as its farm system.)
4) Establish a crew of rules committee members to conduct clinics in which coaches and players would receive instruction on the rules and be warned against injury-causing tactics.
5) Pad the outside surfaces of helmets and shoulder pads; make mouthpieces mandatory; study the value of the face guard, and if it is truly a cause of spinal injury, prohibit its use.
6) Make some form of lightweight knee brace mandatory equipment (e.g., the eight-ounce plastic model used at Oklahoma State).
7) Outlaw strong chemical stimulants and institute urine or saliva tests as is necessary to ensure that players obey the rules against the use of drugs.
8) Monitor practices to make sure the techniques being taught are legal.
None of these recommendations would affect the esthetic qualities of the game. None would lessen its appeal. They would make life more difficult for coaches, and more costly for administrators, but if they saved half a dozen players from lives—spent in wheelchairs, they would be worth it.
Unless there are sweeping changes in the game, a storm of litigation is coming. The thunder is already being heard. Lawyers hang on every broken bone and torn tendon, watching for an opening. The rules and the environment in which the game is played can no longer be left to the whims of coaches and players, because they are at once the cause and the victims of the problem.
"There are a lot of enemies of football now," says Dr. Donald Cooper. "They're frothing at the mouth because of all the litigation and all the problems. They think it's so good because they're finally going to get the game. We've got a professor in the philosophy department who hates the game, hates the coaches, hates the players—and he's with those who see this as a golden opportunity: don't improve football, eliminate it.
"If you love the game, you have to be concerned. You can't put your head in the sand. We've got a crisis of broken bodies. If we don't do something about it, we're going to wake up in five or 10 years and there won't be any football."
Teddy Roosevelt never intended to abolish the game when he inveighed against its excesses 70 years ago. He said in an address at the Harvard Union that he did not in the least object to sport because it was "rough." He emphasized that he did not wish to have colleges "turn out 'mollycoddles,' " or "men who shrink from physical effort or from a little physical pain."
But, he said, "I trust that I need not add that in defending athletics I would not for one moment be understood as excusing that perversion of athletics which would make it the end of life instead of merely a means in life."
President Roosevelt's words are no less meaningful today.