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Two men were needling the Green Bay Packers' Ron Kramer last week at the Athletic Club of Columbus, Ohio. Kramer, the massive offensive end for the Packers, had come to Columbus to accept an award from the Columbus Touchdown Club.
"Come on, Ron," one of the needlers said. "All the players bet on games."
"That," said the large and ominous-looking Kramer, "is a lot of baloney. I guess you're talking about Alex Karras. I don't know how much he bet, if anything. But don't let anybody kid you. We don't bet much, like I've read in the papers. The players, I mean. Oh, a little, maybe, but nothing big. It's in our contracts not to, and the guys honor their contracts. I mean it."
No one who has watched Kramer play football would ever suspect for a moment that he does not exert all of his energy for the Packers. Nor would anyone believe that Alex Karras, the superb defensive tackle for the Detroit Lions, does any less than his best for his club. That, however, is not the point.
Karras and Kramer figure in the recent wave of publicity attending allegations of betting scandals in the National Football League. The furor was touched off by George Halas, the owner of the Chicago Bears, who issued a gratuitous statement denying any wrongdoing on the part of the Bears even though the team has not been accused. On the heels of Halas' statement, Bear Fullback Rick Casares said that he had taken—and passed—two lie detector tests. Then Karras, on a national television hookup, said that he had bet minimal amounts on games. On the face of it, small bets by players on their own teams to win—Karras said he bet cigarettes and cigars—seem rather innocuous. Not so.
Pete Rozelle, the young commissioner of the National Football League, employs a large staff of former FBI agents whose sole duty is the investigation of rumors of betting or of unsavory association by the players in the league. Each year he tours the training camps to speak to the squads, and a major part of each talk is devoted to explaining precisely how dangerous it is for a player even to be seen in the company of a known gambler. Any player—or any owner—can be thrown out of the league if it is proved that he has bet on a pro football game. Rozelle, now in the midst of the investigations brought on by Halas' statement, has yet to take a drastic step. It might be good for pro football if he did.
"We have found nothing of a criminal nature," Rozelle said the other day. "We have found no evidence of bribes or of point shaving. Weare presently investigating rumors involving individuals on four different teams. In a sport which has grown to the size of professional football, these rumors are inevitable. We investigate four or five each year—no more and no less than we are investigating this year."
Rozelle did not name the four teams. An educated guess would most likely include Detroit, Chicago, Green Bay and Pittsburgh; and to date no evidence is available that any player on any of these teams has bet more than $5 or $10 on any one game.
Sixteen years ago, this problem presented itself to the league and immediate and dramatic action was taken. Two players for the New York Giants—Quarterback Frank Filchock and Fullback Merle Hapes—were offered bribes before the 1946 championship game. They did not take the bribes, but they did not report them, either. Both were suspended indefinitely from the NFL.
Neither of them was accused of betting. Bert Bell was commissioner of the NFL at that time and the action he took was quick, fierce—and right. His successor, faced with less of a problem, must act as dynamically.