Dick Butkus: “We Know the Game’s Dangerous, But That’s What Makes it so Exciting for People”


You’d expect Hall of Fame middle linebacker Dick Butkus — an old-school, gritty tough guy — to be stuck in his ways when it comes to the way the game is played today. But while that might be the case in regard to penalizing defenders and player characteristics, Butkus has a forward-thinking approach when it comes to performance-enhancing drugs.
That’s why he spends quite a lot of his time speaking to youth about the dangers of such substances. Dick Butkus joined The Rise Guys on 95.7 The Game in San Francisco to discuss the state of the game today, speaking specifically about performance-enhancing drugs, illegal hits, injuries and the way players are nowadays compared to in his era.

On if he’d have killed someone had he used performance-enhancing drugs in his era:

“I probably could have, but then I’d probably be dead myself.”

On the anti-PED initiative he’s involved with:

“Besides the point of being illegal, they’re just dangerous. … It’s really a health issue, and that’s what we’re trying to get across to kids. Our surveys tell us that even today there’s close to 400,000 to 500,000 kids admitting taking steroids, and a third of the new users are girls. And like about 82 percent claim they’ve never been told or received any information about the dangers of it. So that’s what we’re trying to do, we’re trying to educate our youth. You can get the same results if you eat well and train hard and play with attitude.”

On his belief that the league shouldn’t automatically penalize defensive players when helmets collide:

“I think the league is doing a good job of making everybody aware of it, but I see the public every day and the number one question that always comes up is, ‘Don’t you think the game is getting sissified with all these rules?’ And the way I explain it is, ‘Look, if I’m a receiver for example, and the ball is thrown to me and I make the catch and I don’t have time to really respond to that and see that here comes this guy, he takes an elbow and hits me in the head with it — OK, throw the flag. But if I also in the same situation catch the ball and I’ve got the time, the split-second to turn and see the defender coming at me, I’m going to get ready for the hit, lower the shoulder or what have you. He’s going to do the same thing and our helmets might crash together. I don’t think you should throw a flag on that.’ But now they’re just throwing the flag automatically whenever two helmets meet, and I don’t think that’s right. … We know the game’s dangerous, but that’s what makes it so exciting for people. Unfortunately, you can hurt yourself.”

On if the game’s better off now than it was when he played:

“I’d question that. I hate to bring this up, the old guys always say this — the old timers. But they’re a different breed today. And I’ll give you an example of I think what says it all. I was talking to Gale Sayers a couple years ago and he was telling me that he was talking to a current back, a running back, and some way or another Jim Brown’s name came up and the kid said, ‘Who’s that?’ I mean, that says it all. I think the difference is this marketing yourself. I’d really would like to go down on the field and ask one of these players when they’re losing 20-to-nothing with 30 seconds to go and they make a tackle in the backfield and they start doing cartwheels and pounding their chest. I’d like to ask them, ‘Do you really realize how stupid you look doing that? What’s with the celebration? Your team is losing and you’re celebrating because you made a tackle, which you should have been doing all game.’ So to me, there is a difference. Whether it’s the money or whatever, I don’t know, but it’s definitely different. There’s a different character playing this game. But on the same token, like you say, it’s big. What else in the country besides a tragedy stops the country from doing things and attention’s on the Super Bowl?”

On how things have changed as far as the relationships between players on opposing teams:

“Nowadays guys are praying together after the game, so I don’t know what the deal is.”

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