MIXED REVIEWS (CONT.)
Ron Mix (So Little Gain for the Pain, Oct. 19) makes a strong case for sympathizing with the NFL players' strike because of the physical and mental abuse the players get from fat-cat management. Instead of using the issues Mix raises as reasons for supporting free agency, however, the union should have made them the basis of the strike. To strike for money rather than for improvements in working conditions sends this message to NFL management: We don't care how you treat us or future players as long as you come up with enough money.
If the players' union wants the public's support in the future, it should focus on these other issues. It is almost impossible for anyone in the regular work force to be sympathetic to claims of fiscal abuse made by a group that is averaging nearly a quarter of a million dollars a year for playing a game.
Ron Mix definitely makes his case for professional football players. However, if he were genuinely concerned about their well-being, he would counsel them against playing for fear of shortening their lives. Mix's hypocrisy shows itself when he focuses on money rather than on the health and safety of the players. No amount of money is worth losing 15 years of life.
I particularly noted Ron Mix's dismissal of the issue of the players having bargained away free agency in the past as "too sad to comment upon." That's an interesting way to attack an important question.
November 16, 1987
As for his description of striking football players as "real heroes," perhaps he should check the ranks of the factory workers and laborers who bust their tails to make $25,000 a year, raise a family and build a life for themselves. What about the backs, knees, hips and elbows of the people who work eight to 10 hours a day at manual labor? And he's asking these people—who buy the tickets and watch the commercials that help pay the players an average of $230,000 per year—to call the players heroes? Something is backward here.
I would bet that the majority of the players play because they love the game, they love to compete, and it is a heck of a good way to make a living.
Just for comparison's sake, did you know that a New York City firefighter, a man who puts his life on the line every time he reports for work and who must serve for 20 years before he can retire with a pension, earns a whopping $35,912 a year, tops?
If the NFL players had gone on strike for grass turf, a total ban on steroid use, drug-free football, mandatory drug testing—issues that would ensure greater safety and a longer career span for the players—there would have been public support.
New York City
For weeks I'd had trouble articulating to the people in our plant why I, management, was on the players' side in the NFL strike. Our men are all union people, but they were against the players because, they said, "those players are a bunch of spoiled guys earning $250,000 a year." Ron Mix provided exactly the arguments I needed.
The NFL owners, for the most part, perfectly exemplify the century-old management mentality that created the need for unions in the first place. Successful management today knows that employers and employees need to be partners on the same team—not adversaries. Great article.
Service Web Offset Corporation
Ron Mix contends that pro football shortens the average player's life span by 15 years. But it may be that the players' large size, and not the game itself, is the determining factor in longevity.
The July 1978 issue of Science Digest reported a study of men, including U.S. Presidents, leaders in science, business and the arts, and football, baseball and basketball players and other athletes, that found that short people (generally, those standing 5'8" or less) live longer. After reading this, I did my own "study." randomly selecting deceased nonpitchers from the 1974 Baseball Encyclopedia. I found that 150 players 5'7" or shorter lived an average of 66.4 years and that 160 players 6'1" or taller lived an average of four years fewer. Twenty-six players 5'5" or shorter survived an average of 70.6 years, outliving 81 players 6'2" or taller by an average of more than nine years.
•No definitive study on the longevity of pro football players has been made. The NFL Players Association's claim that the average player's life span is 55 years (as opposed to 70 for the general male population) is not scientifically based. Rather the NFLPA relies on inconclusive data and on the fact that the overwhelming majority (88%) of the players eligible for pensions have elected to begin collecting them, albeit at a reduced rate, at the minimum age of 45, because, the NFLPA says, they feel they may not be alive to collect full benefits at 55. A study done by the statistical bureau of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company of 10,079 major league baseball players active from 1876 through 1973 showed that their life span was 28% longer than that of the general white male population. (Managers, incidentally, didn't fare as well, although they too lived longer than their white male contemporaries.) However, none of these studies factored in the cause of the subjects' death or their height or, more important, their weight (the famed Framingham Heart Study and other research have clearly shown a relationship between obesity and early death), or living habits, among other important considerations. Clearly, a formal and sophisticated study of the longevity of pro football players and other athletes is needed to resolve the issue.—ED.
As someone who played for Bear Bryant at the University of Alabama. I beg to differ with Ron Mix's secondhand assessment of the greatest coach who ever lived. I was one of thousands of former players—some of whom traveled great distances—to attend his funeral. If that outpouring of emotion was a result of the "brutality" that we supposedly suffered when we played for him, then I'm all for brutality.
Also, unbeknownst to most of the public, Coach Bryant before his death used his own money to set up a perpetual trust to provide an academic scholarship to either Alabama or Texas A & M to each eligible child of every former player of his at those schools. I believe this illustrates that he did not view us as "disposable, interchangeable parts, gone and forgotten."
Ron Mix claims that Vince Lombardi "mistreated players." I wonder if Mix ever read Distant Replay by Jerry Kramer and Dick Schaap. I have a copy in front of me, and it is full of quotes from Lombardi's former players crediting the coach for their success on and off the field. Kramer and Fuzzy Thurston speak with genuine love for Lombardi. Ron Kostelnik, Willie Davis and Max McGee never earned six-figure salaries, yet they became millionaires, and they credit Lombardi for the lessons he taught that apply to life after football.
For someone who never even played for Lombardi to say that he brutalized his players is ludicrous and an insult to those of us in Packerland who love, respect and admire The Coach and the men whose lives he touched and shaped in such a positive way.
MARK C. KOHL
ST. LOUIS STYLE
In his POINT AFTER (Oct. 19), Frank Deford exhorts America to worry not about being "big league" but about being "grown-up," like St. Louis sports fans. On Oct. 13, after your Oct. 19 issue went to press, these same fans pelted San Francisco outfielder Jeffrey Leonard with a paper airplane, a wad of tape, beer and cowbells (cowbells?). That's Busch league.
Deford has described the difference between the "enthusiastic" fan and the "rabid" fan. I hope sports fans around the country will seek to emulate the St. Louis style, which in my opinion would make this nation a finer place to live in.
Menlo Park, Calif.
ANOTHER WORLD SERIES
When a team from Taiwan won the boys' Little League World Series for the 12th time in 14 years, SI dutifully noted this achievement with an item and photograph in SCORECARD (Sept. 7). Few people realize, however, that the Little League has also developed an extensive network of girls' softball programs and has sponsored a World Series for 11- and 12-year-old girls since 1974. The girls' Series, which this year was held from Aug. 17 through Aug. 22, in Kalamazoo, Mich., was won for the second straight summer by the Tampa Bay Little League All-Star team. My daughter Whitney (middle row. third from right, below) was fortunate to be a starter on the 1987 team.
BARBARA L. CASEY
Letters to SPORTS ILLUSTRATED should include the name, address and home telephone number of the writer and should be addressed to The Editor, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, Time & Life Building, Rockefeller Center, New York, N.Y. 10020-1393.