While this book first saw the light of day in 1970, it amazes me how relevant it remains today.
Meggysey, one of a large family born to Hungarian immigrants, grew up in Ohio and one might say found his way into professional football without ever having seriously dreamed of playing at the highest level. From high school to Syracuse to the end of his NFL career with the Cardinals, a part of him always knew that football culture was exploitative and racist. What would have been a dream for many young American men was a career from which he was eager to move on.
Moving on was simple enough. As the sixties moved on, all he had to do was become active in anti-war and anti-racist activities. That would get him shown the door if he didn’t retire first, which he did. He moved on to a career in education and activism.
The striking thing about Meggysey’s story is that our progress in fifty years has been modest and incremental at best. He tells freely of the ways and amounts in which Syracuse players were paid, a process that goes on today though less openly. (Whenever I see a college program rocket from mehness to top-ten recruiting classes, my first assumption is that they decided to go the bagman route.) He believes American football has a toxic culture. While I still like the college game, and I do not regret my high school playing days, I also think he is right–especially in places where football is the primary religious preference.
There’s no doubt in my mind that Dave Meggysey, like me, would be proud to kneel with Colin Kaepernick. I don’t have much use for mass nationalistic rallies prior to sporting events. I see them as manipulative and indoctrinary. One major change since his playing days involves the demographics of college and professional football, which are now very heavily black and Polynesian. You’d think it would be impossible to have racist issues in football coaching at any level above high school, and yet we keep hearing of them.
I don’t pretend to know all the answers; perhaps in the past fifty years Meggysey has found some. My biggest takeaway from this book was a better understanding of the game’s dynamics during its unsettled sixties, and the understanding that its troubles are nothing new.
Why I had never heard of him, I have no idea. I’ve normally heard of most conspicuous nonconformists in sports I follow, including those mostly before my time. I am glad I found him now, and I hope I get to meet him someday.