In some very important ways, this has been an extraordinary summer for SPORTS ILLUSTRATED and its readers. Two weeks ago we concluded a three-part series on money in sports, and in this issue, beginning on page 68, we commence another series, also in three installments, on brutality in football.
The money series was the result of a long-term concern of several of our editors; the football series is the consequence of what amounts to a personal crusade by Senior Writer John Underwood, who felt that the game he loves was being seriously threatened.
Underwood, as he says, has been "living violence" ever since he began working on the series last fall, and it has crystallized many of his worst fears about the state of football. "The thing that gets everybody angry is the so-called 'criminal element' in football," says Underwood, "but you have to back up from that and really wonder what brought George Atkinson to the point where he believed he was right to try to intimidate Lynn Swann by clubbing him with a forearm."
Underwood brought to his task an enduring passion for football, particularly the college game. It is this respect for the sport that made many of his findings—including those on deliberate brutality and drug abuse that appear in forthcoming installments—particularly disturbing. "I got very exercised," he says. "The game itself is the ultimate team game, and it's the sport I most like to watch. But there were so many indications that something was going terribly wrong."
What Underwood discovered only confirmed what he had suspected all along: excessive violence had insinuated itself into the game over a period of years. "When it came to breaking down the sport itself," Underwood says, "some of the things that were happening within the framework of the rules were as bad as what was happening outside the rules. The key to understanding it and making some sense of it was trying to figure out when this type of violent play was necessary and when it wasn't. For instance, when you talk to football coaches, they will tell you that the quarterback needs more protection. But what most coaches really mean is their quarterback needs protection. Meanwhile, they're still coaching their players on how to put the other guy's quarterback out of the game."
Underwood thought that with a reasonable amount of work he could come up with a solution to the problems he perceived as being a threat to the game. But, as he says, "One thing led to another." Curiously, many of the people Underwood interviewed acknowledged that football was at the crossroads, but almost no one was doing anything about it. "There hasn't been any cohesive national effort to get things changed," Underwood says.
With that in mind, Underwood doubled his efforts. "The one thing I felt most strongly about from the very beginning," he says, "was to provide solutions." The solutions are there. Please read on through Part 3.