Members of the Dallas Cowboys' championship teams from the 1970s said Monday that the scrutiny professional athletes face in the modern era is similar to what they went through in the days before every move was recorded on a smartphone and spread around the world by social media.
Roger Staubach, a quarterback who won two Super Bowls with the Cowboys after winning the Heisman Trophy at Navy in 1963, said in an interview with The Associated Press that temptations increase with the amount of money an athlete makes — and that those who are paid to play must be cautious to maintain a proper balance.
"In your life, you have to overcome temptations," Staubach said. "If you look at sports, the more money that gets involved, it's harder to keep your perspective, your balance, but you should. It shouldn't be all about the money."
Staubach, cornerback Mel Renfro and defensive back Charlie Waters were among a number of ex-Cowboy players and coaches who visited Arkansas to honor safety Cliff Harris at the Little Rock Touchdown Club. They agreed to meet with the AP after a ceremony announcing that Harris' name will be on a new award that will be presented to the top small-college defensive player.
The ex-Cowboys said headline-generating scandals in a variety of sports, including the recent suspensions of baseball players for using performance-enhancing drugs, overshadow the recognition due athletes who play fairly, volunteer in their communities and, as Waters said, live as a "well-behaved member of society."
"There's always been pressure. It's part of the job," Waters said. "If you don't want that, then you don't want to be playing professional sports or even college sports.
"Unfortunately a lot of players think they can do a lot of stuff. Players need to be great on the gridiron. That's it. When they get off that, they don't have to be anything but themselves. ... There's got to be a separation," Waters said.
The former players didn't talk about specific players in scandals, though Staubach called the murder allegation against former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez "beyond belief." He said athletes should exercise peer pressure against rule-breakers and that the media and the public should find a taste for happier stories.
"I'm a bit surprised at the steroid stuff that the players who don't use it don't do something about it," Staubach said. "You want to compete against the other play with an equal advantage as far as your physical size, not someone who is drugged up. I'm hoping that more players who have not used drugs: Why aren't they doing something about the guys that do?"
He said if the public was willing to read positive stories and the media were willing to provide them, perhaps the state of sports wouldn't appear to be so bad.
"Why don't they write stories about the guys who are sacrificing their weekend because they're out with a children's charity or helping kids do something? Our society wants more negative information than positive information. Why is that?" Staubach asked. "If they appreciated positive information you guys would have more content.
"The greater amount of athletes do a tremendous amount of good things. They're not getting in trouble," Staubach said.
Renfro said that, now as then, players have to rely on their own good character to stay out of the headlines for the wrong reasons.
"You know that your every move and your every word is going to be recorded. And if your character is good enough, and you are a good enough person, you're not going to do those things that are going to bring attention to you that isn't good," Renfro said. "It's just a matter of keeping your nose clean. Some of these guys nowadays they think they're above the law and they really don't care."
"Of course, you have the good ones who are going to do the right thing," he said.
Staubach played only for the Cowboys, has been married to the same woman for 47 years and ended his career with a squeaky clean image. He said Monday he couldn't recall if he had done anything wrong while on the public stage.
"I don't know if there's anything that came out that I, I don't know, nothing overwhelming that I know of," he said. "Are you looking for something?"