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FTR #304 Illegal Procedure: Organized Crime in the NFL

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Super Bowl III: Joe Namath and late Bubba Smith (#78), who opined that the game was fixed.

This program is part of a series about “the politics of illusion.” The reality of the National Football League (like the reality of film pioneer Walt Disney) contrasts sharply with the carefully constructed, rigorously marketed illusion with which it is identified in the minds of the American people.

1. In the book Interference: How Organized Crime Influences Professional Football [5], author Dan Moldea [6] illustrates the contrast between the Hollywood legend of football and the reality of the game by analyzing Ronald Reagan’s role as Notre Dame star George Gipp in the movie Knute Rockne: All American [7]. This role provided Reagan with his political persona of “the Gippper.” (This was Gipp’s nickname and is the centerpiece of an ongoing myth about the player and Rockne, a celebrated football coach at Notre Dame, played by actor Pat O’Brien in the movie.)

2. Gipp, dying of pneumonia, supposedly gave Rockne a deathbed request. “His [Gipp’s] purported deathbed request to Rockne, ‘Win just one for the Gipper,’ was used during a locker room pep talk and helped to inspire Rockne’s 1928 team in its upset victory against Army. And, as the Gipper incarnate, Reagan used the line to inspire voters to elect him to the California governor’s mansion and later the White House. To those who saw the movie and listened to Reagan utter those now-famous words, Gipp epitomized the virtues of good character, sportsmanship, and ‘the right way of living.’

3. “History, however, now shows that Gipp, a man of truly questionable moral values, probably never made any such request on or off his deathbed; that Rockne, who was known for grasping at anything to incite his players, had fabricated the incident and that Reagan’s movie further embellished the Gipp/Rockne charade. . . . Regardless of the facts, the American public continues to believe the legend of George Gipp’s deathbed request to Knute Rockne.

4. “The difficulties in debunking the myth about one college coach and one of his players is an indication of the problems in dispelling the legends about an entire institution, particularly one as popular as football. Powerful forces in America have built empires around these myths; and the preservation of these empires and the personal wealth of those who own them depend upon the maintenance of the legends.

5. “In the Reagan movie myth of the lives of Rockne and Gipp, there is one scene in which Rockne chases away a gambler who is looking for an edge. Rockne, played by actor Pat O’Brien, tells him, ‘We haven’t got any use for gamblers around here. You’ve done your best to ruin baseball and horse racing. This is one game that’s clean and it’s going to stay clean.’ Considering that Gipp, with the knowledge of Rockne, was a notorious sports gambler, the O’Brien quote perhaps best illustrates my point.

6. “To a large degree, the National Football League (the NFL) has become the embodiment of the Gipp/Rockne myth. It has wrapped itself around the American flag and strutted into America’s homes to the thrilling stir of brass and percussion music as the choreography of bone-crushing tackles in dramatic slow motion flashes across the nation’s television screens. Based upon the illusion, the country’s love affair with professional football has given sports fans confidence that the NFL is an institution unencumbered by corruption.” (Interference: How Organized Crime Influences Professional Football; Dan Moldea; copyright 1989 by William Morrow and Company [HC]; ISBN 0-688-08303-X; pp.19-20.)

7. Moldea later points out that, when being chastised by Rockne for being unmotivated, Gipp explained that he had $500.00 bet on the game and was, as a result, very motivated. (Ibid.; p. 437.)

8. The focus turns to organized crime connections of some NFL team owners, past and present. Particular emphasis is on NFL owners connected to the organized crime forces involved with the JFK assassination. Also highlighted are the connections of this milieu to that of Richard Nixon and the Watergate scandal.

9. The discussion sets forth the involvement of Clint Murchison, Jr. (owner of the Dallas Cowboys) with organized crime figures such as Carlos Marcello, a focal point of the JFK assassination investigation. (Ibid.; pp. 104-105.)

10. Marcello associate Joe Campisi, a fixture around the Dallas Cowboys, visited Jack Ruby by request (in jail) five days after Ruby killed Oswald. (Ibid.; p. 447.)

11. Murchison was very close to Nixon. (Ibid.; p. 103.)

12. Murchison was also close to Marcello associate I. Irving Davidson. (Ibid.; p. 295.)

13. Davidson was represented by Plato Cacheris during the investigation of a scheme involving the Teamsters’ Central States Pension Fund. (Ibid.; p. 295.)

14. Cacheris has also represented people involved in the Iran-Contra affair and Monica Lewinsky. He was also the law partner of former NFL security chief Bill Hundley. (Idem.)

15. Next, the program examines Hugh Culverhouse, the former owner of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Culverhouse was alleged to have dealings with Santos Trafficante, another organized crime figure with connections to the JFK assassination. Culverhouse represented Nixon intimate Bebe Rebozo during the Watergate hearings and his son (Hugh Culverhouse, Jr.) represented Nixon Attorney General John Mitchell, along with the aforementioned Bill Hundley. (Ibid.; pp. 285-286.)

16. Culverhouse was also deeply involved with associates of syndicate boss Meyer Lansky in a real estate project called Major Realty. (Ibid.; 286.)

17. Hugh Culverhouse was professionally involved with the De Bartolo family, long-believed to have organized crime connections. (Eddie De Bartolo, Jr. was the owner of the San Francisco 49ers. His sister owns the team now.) Culverhouse was the attorney for the sale of the team to De Bartolo. (Ibid.; p. 289.)

18. Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis, himself connected to organized crime, helped broker the sale of the 49ers to De Bartolo. (Idem.)

19. A 1982 Customs Department report alleged that the De Bartolo organization had succeeded Meyer Lansky as the financial wizard or organized crime. (Ibid.; pp. 352-353.)

20. De Bartolo, Jr. was defiant about an apparent conflict of interest between his ownership of the 49ers and his father’s proprietorship of the Pittsburgh Maulers of the now-defunct USFL. (Ibid.; 354.)

21. Much of the rest of the program is devoted to an examination of the business relationship of mob associate Allen Glick and Raiders’ boss Al Davis. (Ibid.; pp. 274-277.)

22. When Glick’s dealings became the focus of a lawsuit by Davis business contact Tamara Rand, see was murdered in a gangland-style killing. (Ibid.; pp. 275-276.)

23. The program concludes with discussion of Las Vegas odds-maker Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder’s pardon by President Gerald Ford. (Ibid.; p. 460.)

24. Convicted on gambling offenses, he claims to have met Ford through Robert Maheu, who helped recruit Mafia killers to help kill Fidel Castro. (Idem.)