“I don’t think the locker room has changed all that much,” former NFL lineman Conrad Dobler tells Breitbart Sports. “I think the public perception of what is acceptable and what is not acceptable has changed. Everybody has to be politically correct.”
In part one of our conversation, Dobler discussed the importance of intimidation in football, his experiences in locker-room hazing, and the bullying scandal that has embroiled the NFL. Here, in part two of our freewheeling conversation, one of the most controversial players in NFL history touches on such controversies as the Incognito-Martin bullying scandal, Michael Sam potentially becoming the first openly gay NFL player, and league safety measures.
“I spent my earlier years putting people in the hospital and now I spend my time trying to keep them out of the hospital,” Conrad Dobler tells Breitbart Sports. In retirement from the NFL, the former St. Louis Cardinals lineman visits factories and businesses to facilitate the delivery of tens of thousands of flu shots every year. Health looms large in his thoughts. “My knees are bad,” the 63-year-old confesses. “I just had my shoulder replaced. I do ten miles a day on the bike. I gotta stay alive because my wife’s been in a wheelchair for the last ten years.”
Known as one of the roughest players in a rough game, the retired ten-year veteran doesn’t believe the sport has changed as much as some think. “I think that between the lines it’s still football,” he explains. “A lot of the things they’re doing are minute little things to appease the public and get the press off their ass. It’s window dressing. Why is the NFL the only enterprise in America that doesn’t have to take care of their injured employees?”
In 1977, Sports Illustrated dubbed Dobler “Pro Football’s Dirtiest Player” on its cover. Punching Mean Joe Greene and kicking Merlin Olsen provided strange luster to that dirty reputation. But the player-hating stemmed in large part from players hating their on-field defeats to Dobler. His 1975 Cardinals team set an NFL record by allowing just eight sacks all season. The feared guard contends he would compete no differently now than how he played back then, which is to say he would do what he could get away with within the rules. “If you have smarts, you can get away with anything,” he opines. “I would have played by the rules and what they’re set to be. My job is to put the guy on the ground. Period. We weren’t allowed to hold like they do today. I’ve never seen such holding in my life. The game’s changed in that sense, too–technique-wise.”
One change NFL locker rooms may face in the 2014 season is the arrival of an openly-gay player in University of Missouri defensive end Michael Sam, a development that Dobler claims players of his era might have been better equipped to handle. “We didn’t give a shit if a guy was gay or not,” Dobler maintains. “I didn’t.” The University of Wyoming alum holds that playing in the midst of the sexual revolution would have made it in some ways easier for a Michael Sam to assimilate into the culture of the NFL. His one dispute with Sam’s approach involves the sensationalistic manner in which he divulged his sexuality.
“Why does he have to let everyone know?” Dobler asks. “Why is it anyone’s business who you sleep with? It’s no one’s business. That’s my only beef. Is it that important to let the world know? They know already. Why do you have to let everyone know? That’s the only time he got his name in the paper. Did it help? Yes. Did it help in a good way or a bad way? I’m doing an interview with you right now because they called me ‘the dirtiest player in the NFL.'”
The guy some call the dirtiest player in today’s game, fellow guard Richie Incognito, has similarly made headlines unrelated to his play. “I don’t want to be associated with him,” Dobler tells Breitbart Sports. “I’m not real proud of being called ‘the dirtiest player in the NFL'” He believes that Incognito’s issues may go beyond psychological to involve chemicals and that Jonathan Martin needs to roll insult more easily off his back. “Today, everyone has gotten pretty thin skinned,” the three-time Pro Bowler offered. “If you know what you are in your heart, it doesn’t make a difference what anyone else said.”
More so than even younger players like Jonathan Martin, the NFL remains ultra-sensitive to the slings and arrows of others. Dobler remains skeptical of the sincerity in the NFL’s response to the league’s many critics. “I think it’s all about protecting the shield,” the retired NFL veteran maintains. “They can get rid of the kickoff. But it’s still a violent game. Everything the NFL management does is to protect the shield. It’s window dressing to say, ‘This is what we’re doing.’ It’s to get the public off their ass. It’s to get congress off their ass. It’s to get the media off their ass.”