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Still on the Outside
David Remnick
October 05, 1987
Nearly two decades ago Dave Meggyesy took on the NFL in his scathing book. Now as a union man his struggle continues
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October 05, 1987

Still On The Outside

Nearly two decades ago Dave Meggyesy took on the NFL in his scathing book. Now as a union man his struggle continues

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In a way, Meggyesy is a liberal by day, a radical by night. He still has criticisms of the way the league does business, but he does the job Upshaw and the union ask him to do. They pay him $44,500 to inform and reform. "Dave knows there is a difference between the immediate concerns of the union and his idea of a Utopia," Upshaw says.

Sometimes Meggyesy considers the things he cannot say on behalf of the union. Personally, he still speaks unsparingly of the NFL. If he does have a Utopia in mind, it is a long way off, as some of his views suggest.

?On drugs: "There was a period of my life when I used illegal drugs, but I wouldn't say I was into drugs. At a certain time people thought cocaine was pretty benign. Now we know it isn't.

"But drug testing is a control issue. It's the employer assuming the prerogatives of the criminal-justice system. The employer isn't the state.... We're fighting this battle for every person who works for a living. There is the tragedy, the death of Don Rogers, but every NFL player shouldn't be painted with the same brush. The real drug problem in the NFL is in the training rooms. But Rozelle still doesn't want to talk about painkillers."

?On race and the NFLPA: "We are a union driven mostly by blacks. In the NFL a lot of the white guys came from conservative or born-again backgrounds. No matter how big the star, the blacks know the sting of injustice."

?On football and culture: "Football emerged out of Social Darwinism and the industrial period in American history.... It is based on violence, on the conquest and defense of territory. The ball is just a little marker of where you are. I think the game fits in now with the whole idea of corporate America. The values of being aggressive are being tested in the business world. Are we competitive? Can we beat the other guy? The game now is an ode to materialism. It certainly doesn't stand for any spiritual or ethical values. The stuff that surrounds the Super Bowl is just one big corporate self-congratulation. It's so ostentatious it makes you want to puke.

"But a game does have spiritual overtones. All sports do. The game is a powerful activity that humans do, like music. It's a powerful learning context. But it will take a lot to get back to that essential part of it."

?On team owners: "In sports there's a tendency to accept things as axiomatic: the draft, the right of an owner to keep a player against his will. Capitalists like to own people. Most owners see players as chattel, big dumb guys who play a game.... The owners know that if the players wised up and realized that the players are the game and don't need owners, they'd be in trouble. Owners are the only unessential component in the game. Why doesn't someone own Frank Sinatra or the Rolling Stones? It's a real mind-body split, a slavery attitude that says, 'Look, I'll screw you as long as I can until you force me to stop.' It's the American ethic....

"There are some good owners, though. The Rooneys in Pittsburgh have a sense of decency, because they have a sense of history. And Al Davis is committed to the game. He'll screw you over in a minute if he can, as all of them will, but at least his players feel that if they perform, they'll be treated all right."

Before finishing his comments, Meggyesy referred to a passage in his favorite book about sport, Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play Element in Culture by Johan Huizinga: "Play casts a spell over us; it is 'enchanting,' 'captivating.' It is invested with the noblest qualities we are capable of perceiving in things: rhythm and harmony."

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