• Football's Unusual Hit Man

    Chuck Cascio

    It is certainly understandable to believe that football's most powerful hitters are massive giants built along the lines of mythical heroes. To a significant degree, that belief is true! I mean, I definitely do not want to be hit by any one of them, and I am sure most fans would agree! However, fans from a certain era will remember a player who countered that physical stereotype but who regularly produced some of the most punishing hits ever. Just 5' 9" and 170 pounds, Pat Fischer drew praise from coaches, teammates, and even opponents for his intelligent, highly physical style of play. 


    Today the 83-year-old Pat Fischer resides in Ashburn, VA, where he was recently voted  “Favorite Local Celebrity” in Ashburn Magazine’s Best of Ashburn 2023. I had the honor of interviewing him along with some of his family members and longtime friends for a feature story that appeared recently in the magazine. Read the feature about this legendary player here, and enjoy remembering that sometimes it takes more than size to make an impact...both on and off the football field!


    Story copyright Ashburn Magazine; all rights reserved.

    Blog copyright: Chuck Cascio; all rights reserved.





    (I am honored to have been interviewed for this piece that runs on the National Football League Players Association website and is reprinted here with NFLPA permission)--

    Chuck Cascio, editor of the book

     Never Ask “Why”—Football Players’ Fight for Freedom in the NFL by Ed Garvey



     When Ed Garvey, then a 31-year-old attorney from Wisconsin with no football background, took over as the first executive director of the NFL Players Association in 1971, his credentials didn’t exactly fit the job description. But over the course of a 12-year tenure built on the premise that athletes should be treated for who they are – workers in the labor force – Garvey helped generate the spark needed for the union to earn big wins, including true free agency, larger revenue for the players and, perhaps most importantly, dignity on the job.


    In the latter years of his life, Garvey began putting together notes for a book about his time leading the NFLPA. When Garvey’s 2017 death at the age of 76 prematurely halted this endeavor, award-winning journalist Chuck Cascio was asked by Garvey’s family to take the baton in finishing the job. 


    Never Ask “Why”: Football Players’ Fight For Freedom poignantly presents the story behind how the athletes who made up the game of football fought to make sure the league’s owners played fair – all through the words and lens of Garvey.


    In anticipation of its December 23 release, Cascio recently discussed the book’s origins and message.



     How did it come about that you would be the one who finished what Ed Garvey started in writing this book?


    When Ed died in 2017, his family knew he was trying to put together a book to tell the story of establishing the NFLPA and the fight for player rights. Through a mutual friend in [former NFL player and NFLPA assistant executive director] Brig Owens, he put me in touch with the family. I wrote my first book with Brig in 1972, and the Garvey family graciously asked if I could put together Ed’s notes into a manuscript for his book. So I got in touch with an agent and we were able to secure a publishing company in Temple University Press. This all was about a three-to-four-year process.


    What was that process like in pulling together a book for someone who you didn’t have the luxury of speaking with along the way and yet still maintaining his vision?


    What kept me going was, absolutely, the importance of this book in the world today. There’s this assumption that athletes have it made, so they should just be quiet. That’s a direct reflection of what Ed and the players had to deal with, and it’s still going on today. The title is “Never Ask ‘Why.’” Ed wanted that title because that’s what players were told when they asked about contracts or certain benefits that, really, they were entitled to. Owners said don’t ask why; just do what you’re supposed to do on the football field. And of course, Ed and the players mightily pushed back against that.


    There’s so much unique content, and it’s all in Ed’s own words. The book is very conversational with both personal and scholastic appeal. The Garvey family graciously provided me with tons of information – some that was roughed out in manuscript form and some where you could see notes of his thought process. I did as best I could to honor his words and content. It’s not an autobiography of his life, though. It’s a reflective, honest piece about his tenure with the NFLPA and the 12 or so years when he was really in charge of things.


    What are some of your biggest takeaways from the book?

    When most people look at pro athletes, they think “Oh, they’ve made it with the money and fame.” But that’s not entirely true. Yes, they are a lot better off today than they were in the ‘70s and ‘80s, which is when Ed was running the NFLPA. But it took a lot of work and sacrifice to build that progress, and that work is far from finished in holding the league accountable in treating players fairly as workers and people.


    One thing that we really see in the book is the fight to get rid of the Rozelle Rule and the limitations that were in the standard player contract, which was based on a system built in the 1870s. There was no right to go play for another team, and I wasn’t fully aware of how much power that gave owners over players, who were basically giving up their bodies every day for their sport and profession. Ed said, they were not being treated as professionals; they were being treated like chattel.

    To me, while I had some awareness, I was guilty as any other fan who says, “Oh man, why are athletes complaining? They have it made.” You really start to understand the roots and what they had to go through to earn what they have today.


    Are there any anecdotes that you especially enjoyed or feel like truly capture who Ed was during his time leading the players?


    Ed always had a quick wit and humor about him as well as a deep intelligence -- and that comes through often in his writing. He also made a great comparison with the singer Barry Manilow about how he gets 90 percent of the ticket revenue that comes in but football players don’t get anything close to that for doing their job in much the same way. I found it fascinating to get a glimpse into how Ed discovered the wage scale among owners, which was a confidential agreement to limit and determine how much players should be paid. That’s where the “No Freedom, No Football” slogan came from during the 1974 strike.


    There are also times where Ed admits he and the group of players were naïve and made mistakes. They were guilty of believing the owners were going to change after the Rozelle Rule was struck down in court, and then two days later, they see nothing changed. Instead, the owners were using their influence over the media to push a narrative against the players. That type of transparency makes the book even more compelling.


    What is the one message that you want readers to get from reading this book?


    Something that comes through in the book and Ed re-emphasizes in the end is that, while writers focused on the players’ concerns with the reserve system in economic terms, players were subject to a lot of non-economic factors as well. For instance, Black players were not able to play certain positions like center and quarterback. And listen, we’re not talking about 150 years ago. We’re talking about the 1980s. This was real, this was going on and it still is going on today in many different ways. That’s what I want people to take away, and Ed hits on this in an excerpt at the end of the book:


    “So, the battle is joined. Management, with weapons from all other sports leagues, the union with help from the AFL-CIO. Looming on the horizon are billions of dollars to be generated by pay cable television. When the fight comes, NFL players will understand that the “performers” deserve most of these revenues and they will understand that, if successful, the reserve system and all of its dehumanizing aspects will have died in the NFL. It will be a battle worth watching, worth participating in.”


     Copyright: NFLPA and Chuck Cascio; all rights reserved.

    Questions? Comments? Write to chuckwrites@yahoo.com





    Chuck Cascio



         My friend Brig Owens, the all-star safety for the Washington football team, handed me a tee-shirt. "We are going on strike," he said. "I hope you will wear this to show your support."

         I unfolded the shirt, and read its slogan spelled out around a clenched fist: "No Freedom, No Football." I shook Brig's hand and said, "Sure, I will wear it and support you in any way that I can."

         Well, there were not many ways that I--a teacher and freelance journalist--could support Brig and the other players in the NFL who went on strike in 1974, but I understood their cause and I did what I could—writing articles, speaking informally about the players’ cause, and making the the tee-shirt a staple of my wardrobe. At that time, players did not have basic workers' rights--health insurance was limited as were pensions, and players had virtually no say about which team would own their rights in a trade or sale. As far as fans were concerned, few recognized that the guys on the field were actually...WORKERS!  


         Recently, in various fields we see workers demanding their rights, whether it is more money, fringe benefits, time off, or other items relating to personal freedom. They often make their case in ways that surprise others. Perhaps that is because we don't often think about the people on the front line...the people who drive the trucks that deliver the goods at 3:00 AM; the workers responsible for the basic details of automobile operations; the writers and performers whose creativity and commitment create the shows that entertain us and millions of others daily.

         Across professions, there is the tendency to forget that the bottom-line people responsible are, in fact, workers! That is why being given the privilege of developing and editing the late Ed Garvey's experiences and words for the book Never Ask "Why": Football Players' Fight for Freedom in the NFL has been so meaningful to me. Ed was the executive director of the National Football League Players Association from 1971-1983, and among many other initiatives that he led on behalf of players' rights was the "No Freedom, No Football" strike of 1974.

         The tee-shirt, the clenched fist, the players' picket lines, and the slogan “No Freedom, No Football” went a long way toward raising awareness among fans that players were workers who were serious about the freedom issues, issues to which many fans themselves could relate. The slogan and actions conveyed defiance. They communicated the essence of fundamental rights. And they ultimately succeeded in establishing an important starting point for players' rights.

         Never Ask "Why" is now being widely distributed by Temple University Press to football fans, academics, and anyone interested in the issues of equity that are at the basis of this important piece of sports history. Ed Garvey was a fan, a rebel, and a game changer. His experiences are not only a piece of sports and labor history; they are at the core of rights for all workers. 

         That iconic slogan and symbol captured the reality of the battle that was being fought...a battle that continues in sports and other fields today, as the role of ground-level workers is acknowledged, debated, and ultimately, we hope, rewarded.


    Never Ask “Why”: Football Players’ Fight for Freedom in the NFL

    Available in hardback or ebook via Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and many others including directly from Temple University Press at https://tupress.temple.edu/books/never-ask-why

    Copyright: Chuck Cascio, all rights reserved.

    Comments? Send to chuckwrites@yahoo.com


    I am honored to post this review by Lance Smith, who is renowned as



    Thank you, Lance, for your permission to post this and for your insights

    into this important piece of sports history!

    >>>Chuck Cascio


    Review of "Never Ask 'Why?' "


    The books I usually read on sports business and labor issues are on baseball, but this one on football labor strife in the 1970's was quite good.  Written by the late Ed Garvey, this was an excellent look, from the union side, of the labor situation of the NFL at that time. 



    “Never Ask ‘Why?”: Football Players’ Fight for Freedom in the NFL” by Ed Garvey with Chuck Cascio


    5 of 5 stars (excellent)

    Review: In today’s sports world, players in nearly every team sport can pretty much pick whatever team they wish to play for after their contract expires.  That has not always been the case for every sport, especially in the National Football League (NFL) where for many decades, rules existed to keep players from moving to different teams in order to keep salaries low. 

    One of the more restrictive rules was called the “Rozelle Rule”, named after the commissioner of the league at the time, Pete Rozelle.  Briefly, if a player switched teams, the team that lost the player was entitled to compensation that would be determined by Rozelle.  Usually, this was so cost-prohibitive that players very rarely would change teams. Because of this restriction, the players formed a union and it was led by attorney Ed Garvey.  This book, written by Garvey before his death in 2017 and edited for publication by Chuck Cascio, tells of the struggle of NFL players to not only form that union but of their strikes in 1974 and 1975 to gain more freedom for players.  The strike in 1974 lasted two weeks during the preseason and ended when many players decided to play instead of picket.  In 1975, a few teams, led by the New England Patriots, went on strike for one game.  This one was more to illustrate the poor treatment of players by management more than to gain leverage in negotiations.

    While fans of a certain age may remember these strikes during pre-season games in those two years, readers of all ages will learn much about the labor climate of the NFL during that era.  The title of book is a good indicator, as a player was to never ask “why” when it came to salaries or movement.  Garvey also talks about the iron fist that Rozelle used with members on his staff and sending them out to have meetings with Garvey and other union representatives.

    Even while keeping in mind that the book is written from the point of view of the leader of a union that was in contentious talks with the NFL, it was very shocking to see some of the lengths Rozelle and some NFL owners went to try to ignore the union or even destroy it.  Some of the tactics are comical, some are aggravating and some, as it turned out, were illegal.  The famous case of Mackey v. NFL is detailed well in the book and eventually led to the end of the “Rozelle Rule.”  Reading this made me respect these players and the risks they took in order to benefit not only themselves, but future players. 

    I wish to thank Temple University Press for providing a copy of the book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

    Link to order: Amazon.com: Never Ask "Why": Football Players' Fight for Freedom in the NFL: 9781439923153: Garvey, Ed, Cascio, Chuck, Fields, Dr. Sarah K., Page, Judge Alan: Books

    Copyright: Lance Smith; all rights reserved