SI Vault
Robert Coughlan
September 24, 1956
In the first of two parts, Sports Illustrated examines the popular notion that stardom on the gridiron is often followed by failure in life. A unique and monumental survey by Notre Dame supplies material for this part of the study, and its conclusions are startling
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September 24, 1956

Part I: What Happens To Football Players?

In the first of two parts, Sports Illustrated examines the popular notion that stardom on the gridiron is often followed by failure in life. A unique and monumental survey by Notre Dame supplies material for this part of the study, and its conclusions are startling

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Notre Dame's purpose in life, contrary to fairly wide belief, is not only to beat Southern California; it isn't even primarily to equip its young men to go out and make a good living. What the school wants, as Fathers Hesburgh and Joyce declare with feeling, is to produce morally responsible human beings and useful citizens. Accordingly, part of the questionnaire was designed to probe various attitudes of the former athletes.

Since nearly all of them are Catholics, it is not surprising to find their divorce rate almost nil. Practically all of them attend church regularly. Considering their Catholic convictions, their reproductive rate is not impressive: only about three children per family. As citizens they shape up as well as the average college graduate. About 17% have held public office and about the same proportion have had some kind of civic or professional honor given to them. A majority have served in the armed forces and a majority of these became commissioned officers.

Almost to a man, they look back on their years at Notre Dame with affection. Indeed, a more nostalgic and devoted bunch could never be found: 99% would want their sons to go to Notre Dame. About a quarter of them reported that they had been injured seriously playing football, and among these more than a third said that the injuries had bothered them to some extent in later life. Yet almost everyone, the presently halt and lame included, would go out for the team if they had it to do all over again.

Why is this? The questionnaire suggested various "areas in which varsity athletics participation contributed to your development." Some men checked them all. Among those who made a selection, "moral virtue," "religious life," "civic life," "social life," and "recreation" fared worst in the voting. "Courage," "health," and "success in business or professional life" were checked frequently, while the winning categories, in the order of choice, were "teamwork," "self-discipline," "ability to meet people," "ability to accept adversity," and "sportsmanship." The reader may have his own opinion about this scale of values, but these, in any case, were the biggest permanent rewards that went with the monogram. For the most part (78%) the players would encourage or at least allow their sons to play varsity football. Among the rest a few were not sure, while some 15% preferred that the boy learn his teamwork, self-discipline, etc. in Notre Dame's highly developed intramural sports program.

Although "sportsmanship" came two notches below "ability to meet people," there were few players who felt that they had not been set a good example. To the question, "Did you get the impression that the coaches were willing to sacrifice sportsmanship for victory?" only 9% answered "yes," and 90% denied that "undue emphasis is placed on winning at Notre Dame." A number of players quoted Knute Rockne's dictum, "Be a good loser—but don't lose." All-America Stanley Cofall of the 1916 team said, "Naturally we always played to win—but not at any cost." David Hayes, '17, now a U.S. Rubber executive, commented, "Why should anyone have to put emphasis on winning? Everyone wants to win. What is wrong with winning?" Most of the head coaches the school has had—among them Rockne, Hunk Anderson, Elmer Layden, Frank Leahy and Terry Brennan—came in for tributes in this respect. However, the few outright malcontents were bunched mainly in the Leahy era, and a suspicion that all was not perfect then shows in the replies of players from other times, with such dour comments on "undue emphasis" as, "Now that Leahy has retired, I believe boys are enjoying the game."

A striking effect of these questions was to show how the memory of Rockne lives on among the players he coached. Regarding sportsmanship, especially, many of them were moved to recall examples of how he had insisted on fair play. A great majority (87%) of the players from all times thought the coaches had had their best educational interests at heart, but again it was men of the Rockne era who wanted to tell stories to prove it: "Rockne bought my books in freshman year," and "Rockne used to say, 'If you're not smart enough to pass your college work, you're not smart enough to play football for me.' "

Perhaps the greatest of Rockne's long string of great teams was the one of 1924, the year of the Four Horsemen. These men are in their 50s now and thus afford a good sample of what happens to fine players in full maturity. Of the 31 monogram winners, six have died, 12 returned their questionnaires, and SPORTS ILLUSTRATED was able to locate and interview six others. Judging from this large sample, the team has done well. The lowest income reported was $7,000, and the highest $30,000, with the average at about $15,000. Nearly all the men went into coaching but only two are still in: Clem Crowe of Vancouver in the Canadian Professional Football League and the great Adam Walsh who is coach at Bowdoin. The others have spread out into many fields. Tackle John McManmon is a landscape architect and nurseryman, End Charles Collins is president-elect of the National Car-loading Corp. Sales work accounts for a good many of the others, with several sales executives among them. There are also a public relations man, a personnel manager, a warehouse manager and some who own their own businesses. The famous backfield all went into coaching and rose to prominence—Jim Crowley at Fordham, Harry Stuhldreher at Wisconsin, Elmer Layden at Notre Dame and Don Miller as backfield coach at Georgia Tech and Ohio State—but all are now in other work. Crowley, manager of a TV station in Scranton, is chairman of the Pennsylvania boxing commission. Miller, also a lawyer, practices in Cleveland and is a former federal district attorney there. Stuhldreher is assistant to the vice-president in charge of industrial relations at U.S. Steel. Layden is a sales executive with General American Transportation Corp. in Chicago.

If any more evidence were needed that the ability to play great football is compatible with later success, the record of Notre Dame's All-Americas supplies it. There were 35 of them in the survey group—men such as Frank Carideo and Marchy Schwartz—whose names belong among the alltime stars of the game. They depart from the norm in some ways. More of them went into coaching, for instance, and more have stayed in. Slightly fewer were in the armed forces, although four out of five who did go in became commissioned officers. Fewer have received civic or professional honors. And on the average they have one less child—only two per family. These mixed distinctions are weighted favorably by their incomes, however. The median is $10,450, more than 10% higher than for the group as a whole and 47% higher than for college graduates in general.

That takes care of Czycnxwrovich—at Notre Dame. Yet such horrible examples do exist, as everyone knows, and the question becomes, how does Notre Dame so consistently avoid them? The answer seems to lie in safeguards which refuse any academic favors to athletes. They must meet the same entrance requirements as nonathletes, carry the same course of studies and maintain a minimum average of 77%, which is seven points higher than the rule for nonathletes. One of the items on the questionnaire asks, "Do you feel you were given 'snap' courses because you were an athlete?" The answers sputter with indignation: "Those are fighting words! No!"; "The only snap would be the sound of our backbones"; "We had to work like hell to stay in class." No one answered "yes."

How then, the question develops, can Notre Dame find so many boys capable of playing great football and of carrying a solid course of study? Is it, perhaps, that the school attracts them with juicy bribes? After all, wasn't Dr. Buell G. Gallagher, president of CCNY, pretty close to the truth when he recently denounced intercollegiate athletics as "strictly professional" and went on to say: "The players are hired by the highest bidders and play for the pay they get—in scholarships, jobs, or cash.... Whenever you have a big-time team you have a professional team. The two go together. If anyone can challenge that, I'll eat my hat."

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