Sixty-two years ago, Starr was the victim of a brutal hazing that impacted him the rest of his life.
To most, Bart Starr is a legend from NFL’s initial golden era, the winner of the first two Super Bowls and Vince Lombardi’s unflappable Green Bay Packers field general. He remains an iconic treasure.
If you grew up in Montgomery, Alabama, as I did, Bart Starr has always been larger than life. He’s Joe DiMaggio, John Wayne and Gen. Douglas MacArthur rolled up as one.
The field where we played youth baseball was named after his father, Ben. We graduated from the same high school, Sidney Lanier. If you came of age in Montgomery in the 1970s, odds are the first autographs you asked for and received were from Bart Starr. One came at the opening of his car dealership, and another while eating dinner at his restaurant.
Whether you met him at the height of his NFL career or in the years after his retirement from sports and business in Birmingham, everything in the world had seemingly changed except Bart Starr. He remained a gentleman, approachable, friendly and exuding class from a forgotten era.
Now, thanks to the reporting of Joseph Goodman of al.com, we also know something else.
For 62 years, Bart Starr harbored a secret. His final two seasons as the University of Alabama’s quarterback had always been shrouded by a mystery injury; an injury we now know was caused in a brutal, secret hazing incident before his junior season. The same injury forced the U.S. Air Force to declare him physically unfit for duty and would hamper him throughout his NFL career with the Green Bay Packers dynasty.
Starr didn’t break the silence himself. He’s still battling from the devastating affect of two strokes in 2014, and communication remains difficult.
Instead, his wife, Cherry, unveiled the mystery in Goodman’s compelling story.
The only question is why? Why share something that had been hidden for so long from so many?
Because it was Cherry Starr’s secret, too. And by sharing this very personal story, she may impact change.
When Bart Starr was a college student, in the post-World War II era, men were expected to follow a code of silence. Breaking the silence meant weakness and the repercussions, at the absolute minimum, meant being ostracized by teammates and being potentially shunned across campus
By admitting now what happened then, Cherry Starr might give someone from another generation pause. Maybe they won’t take part in a hazing. Maybe if they’re treated in brutal fashion, they’ll come forward.
By going forward, maybe she can help stop this insane, archaic, cruel behavior. It still goes on, within circles of high school athletics teams and within college fraternities. It made no sense then, it makes even less sense today.
This secret is shocking and disturbing.
Yet it doesn’t diminish the legend.
If anything, this news only reaffirms a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a giant of the game and in life.
Editor’s note: Morning Ticker welcomes Doug Segrest as a new Featured Author. Segrest is a veteran sports writer who primarily covered college sports and professional baseball at the Nashville Banner and The Birmingham News, where he was named Tennessee and Alabama Sports Writer of the Year. He’s also the co-host of the highly rated “The Zone” talk show.