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SOME QUESTIONS OF CHARACTER

Some years ago I wrote a column in which I said that instead of football building character, it tends to destroy it. In that piece I also noted that I was sorry to see the emphasis expanding into high school football and perhaps even into Little League football.

I was accused of everything but knocking those two staples of democracy, apple pie and baseball. Indeed, the personal attacks were such that I ended up volunteering to be an assistant coach in Little League football.

Now I wonder about the attitude of those who wrote those letters. How would they explain such cases as Billy Cannon, Denny McLain or ArtSchlichter? Or the fact that sports pages now look like police blotters?

An old saying in sports has it that until adults get onto the scene, the games are all right. And a look at the sports pages these days confirms that. You see, athletes don't get spoiled by themselves.

Football has been good to me as a writer. But way back when I was a player, I learned about the temptations it can offer, even to a person of average ability.

Soon after he sinks his first basket or makes a jarring tackle or long run, one finds that he is not held to the rules that restrict others. And the better athlete he is, the more the temptation.

Do those adults who move him (his family goes with the deal) to a larger city care about his future? Do those who fix his grades? Hardly. Or those who tell him to ignore contracts?

Then there is the military. In his book, Pat Toomay, who did some time as a player with the Buffalo Bills, referred to the National Football League's "sophisticated" draft dodging scheme that kept him from any discomfort he might have had in service in the Vietnam era.

In that direction you would see something special if you watch the halftime of the Lions-Tops All Star Football Classic on July 30.

At halftime that night the Buffalo Bills Boosters Club will present its 24th annual Bob Kalsu Memorial Scholarship. And six will get you five that few of the players in the game will know of Bob Kalsu.

A letter from the Boosters Club says: "The $1,000 scholarship is in honor of Lt. James Robert (Bob) Kalsu, the Bills' eighth-round draft choice in 1968. He was the only professional football player killed in action in Vietnam."

Many years ago Curt Gowdy, the sportscaster, told his audience during a playoff game that Rocky Bleier of the Steelers was the only pro football player to serve in Vietnam.

I wrote to Gowdy, an old friend, and told him about Bob Kalsu. So in that year's Super Bowl, Gowdy told of my letter and added that Roger Staubach had also served in the Navy in Vietnam.

Yes, only three pro football players served in Vietnam. Not a good statistic until you wonder how many college students from a group similar in size served in that war.

So the Vietnam War was not a "civilian war." But some young old-timers still wince when a sportscaster or sportswriter refers to a man being "in the trenches" or talks about "the walking wounded."

The situation in World War II and the Korean War was even worse, especially at West Point and Annapolis. But few know about that now, and fewer will know about it down the road.

As I wrote that last sentence, I had to think of a sports editor from a national newspaper who called one day to discuss that matter.

After I gave him chapter and verse, he said: "You must have misunderstood the person who arranged this phone call. I want only the 'hero' stories."

After a while I was able to tell him about Al Blozis.

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