After nearly 62 years, Hall of Fame NFL quarterback Bart Starr corrects the record by revealing that the injuries that almost ended his 1950s-era college football career came as a result of “brutal” hazing he received when at the University of Alabama.
According to an interview in the Birmingham News, Starr and his wife, Cherry, revealed that over the last 60 years their claim of a back injury the player supposedly suffered during his junior year causing his college football career to fizzle has all been a cover story to conceal the injuries he received from “gruesome ritualistic paddling for initiation into the university’s A-Club .”
For decades Starr has said he was injured during a punting exercise at the university. But now Starr’s wife reveals this just isn’t true. The injury was actually a result of the hazing and was so bad it sent him to the hospital.
“He was hospitalized at one point in traction,” Cherry Starr told the paper. “That was in the days when they were initiated into the A-Club, and they had severe beatings and paddling. From all the members of the A-Club, they lined up with a big paddle with holes drilled in it, and it actually injured his back.”
According to his wife, Starr, who has suffered several strokes recently and is unable to speak publicly, has suffered from his college hazing beating every day since it happened. Cherry said his back was never the same after the attack.
“It was horrible,” she insisted. “It was not a football injury. It was an injury sustained from hazing. His whole back all the way up to his rib cage looked like a piece of raw meat. The bruising went all the way up his back. It was red and black and awful looking. It was so brutal.”
Starr’s account of how bad the hazing was then is substantiated by Nick Germanos, then an Alabama tight end and later a U.S. Marine.
Saying, “It was hell,” Germanos testified the hazing was worse than anything he ever experienced even in the military.
Cherry feels the beating was especially harsh because Starr had broken the A-Club’s rule against students marrying in college. She notes that the club often revoked or reduced scholarships over this rule and it may have been even worse because she was a student at Auburn University when they married.
Still, the famed thrower’s back injury was always played up as a minor affair likely in an attempt to take any light off the practice of hazing.
In fact, it appears that the back injury, one that was mysterious to Alabama fans and maybe even coaches, caused Starr to flunk his medical exam when he applied for the Air Force after his college days ended.
As history records, Col. Frank H. Mears, commander of the Eglin Air Force Base, refused to sign Starr’s enlistment papers due to the “liability” of his back injury. Despite serving in the Air Force ROTC at Alabama, Starr was discharged from the Air Force and went off to great things in Green Bay.
Indeed, Starr went on to become one of the most famous quarterbacks in Packers history by winning five NFL championships, as well as the league’s first two Super Bowls after the last two of those championships.
Ultimately, Cherry Starr reports, the famed player didn’t receive any relief from daily back pain until he was long retired into the 1980s when doctors finally discovered a crack in one of his vertebrae that surgery was able to relieve to a degree.
So, why have the Starr’s remained quite all this time? Cherry says for decades Starr felt that revealing the truth “would make him look bad.”
She may have been right. It has only been recently that hazing has become something many schools, fraternal organizations, and military units have begun to root out. Now, according to the group Stop Hazing, 44 states have laws against hazing.
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston or email the author at firstname.lastname@example.org