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"Rozelle: Czar of the NFL"

This article is more than 15 years old.

Rozelle: Czar of the NFL

Jeff Davis's biography of Pete Rozelle, the Commissioner of the National Football League from 1960 until 1989, will delight admirers of Pete Rozelle and others dazzled by the NFL.Rozelle: Czar of the NFL recounts the growth of the league into the colossus it has become and celebrates the process and the product. According to Davis, Rozelle was not only a genius when it came to marketing, he was a man of impeccable integrity whose judgment was perfect. Davis even reinforces Rozelle's decision to run the NFL's show as scheduled on the Sunday following the assassination of John Kennedy. He maintains that since Kennedy advisor Pierre Salinger thought the President would have wanted the games to be played, Rozelle made the right call.There's a fair amount of football in the book. Perhaps too much, given what many people who'll read it already know about - for example - Vince Lombardi's Green Bay Packers.There is very little about the league's darker side. Of scams and substances, Davis writes "in a real world, sinister forces existed that wanted to take advantage of the situation, be they gamblers or something else not yet known but waiting to emerge down the line — drugs." There are two problems with this assertion. One is that without gamblers, the NFL would never have grown into the national obsession that it has become. Why else would the daily newspaper print the point spreads? The other is that drugs didn't "emerge." The players found them. In the NFL, drugs are a necessity. Players take them in order to live up to the insane expectations their employers have for them, fearing that otherwise they'll lose their jobs. The coaches and owners look the other way in order to keep their players. This is not to suggest that gamblers run the league or that all the players use banned performance-enhancers. But these so-called "sinister forces" are certainly part of the foundation upon which the NFL rests.A more balanced account of Pete Rozelle's impact on the NFL might also have discussed the former commissioner's relative lack of regard for the health and safety of the players. In this respect, Pete Rozelle was representative. Even now the NFL's flagrantly dishonest and transparently self-serving party line is that their medical people have only recently learned how dangerous concussions can be. Doctors have known for many years that multiple concussions, whether they're suffered by athletes or not, can have debilitating and permanent consequences. A commissioner less worried about the bottom line and more devoted to the health of the players might have begun acknowledging the damage down to those players and leading the campaign for their adequate health and retirement benefits years ago. Had that happened, perhaps the most damaged retired players and their families wouldn't be begging for help today.

This program aired on October 4, 2007. The audio for this program is not available.

Bill Littlefield Twitter Host, Only A Game
Bill Littlefield was the host of Only A Game from 1993 until 2018.



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