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I tend to write in the form of short essays most of the time, but contributions do not need to be in this same format or size.
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The Great Kaz
Posted at: Aug/08/2013 : Posted by: mel
Related Category: People,
For those who know me, you know that I am not big on “when I was a boy” stories. Life is an ever changing whirlpool of challenges. I make an effort to not wax on with “back in the day” stories as well. Many people would like to tell you things were better, or simpler, or water was sweeter, or some such thing when talking about the past. My own experience is that our world is continuously evolving. For those individuals who overly dwell on the mystical notion that things were somehow better in a bygone era, they are likely suffering from selective memory. On the off chance that person is right, we can’t go back so the best thing about the past for us is the opportunity to learn and hopefully grow from that learning.
I recently read of the passing of Dick Kazmaier. I have seen his name off and on during the years. In response to seeing his obituary, I did some research and feel his story is worth telling. His story is remarkable not just for the accomplishments of his life, but for the choices he made.
Richard (Dick) Kazmaier grew up in the city of Maumee, a community just outside of Toledo Ohio. Dick graduated from Maumee High School in Ohio in 1948. He played football for 4 years, basketball for 4 years, ran track and field for 4 years, baseball for 4 years and played golf for 1 year earning a sports letter each year in each sport. For obvious reason he was recruited by 23 colleges, most of which offered him full scholarships.
As a freshman at Princeton, he was fifth string on the football team. By his junior year he was a starter playing tailback, kicker and quarterback in what was then called the “wing formation.” To say his college football career was distinguished would be an understatement. Despite being only 5 feet 11 inches tall and only 155 pounds, he led his team to two perfect 9-0 seasons in 1950 and 1951. Being a tailback was glamorous position but demanding in his day. The “Amazing Kaz” as he was known in the papers his senior year threw for 966 yards and ran for 861. Kaz ended his career at Princeton with 55 touchdowns, being named All American, receiving the Maxwell Award and the Heisman Trophy. Time Magazine named him male athlete of the year in 1951. He was also named the 1951 Associated Press athlete of the year. Second place went to golfer Ben Hogan, who won the Masters and U.S. Open tournaments that year.
The Chicago Bears drafted him in the 1952 pro football draft, but he declined to play pro ball. Unlike modern high school athletes, despite his prowess at sports, he went to college for an education which likely explains his selection of Princeton over his other college opportunities. Much like today, great athletes often come out of nowhere, but sometimes they also choose to return to obscurity moving right back to somewhere else. “Pro football — that’s definitely out,” he said after his memorable 1951 season. “I don’t see anything I could gain by it.” “Money doesn’t interest me at all right now. I probably could sign a pro contract and make a lot of quick cash. That’s not for me. I don’t want to live a fast life. I want a quiet, normal life.” Instead, he graduated cum laude from Princeton in 1952, with a degree in psychology, and enrolled in the Harvard Business School.
Dick Kazmaier received a master’s degree in business administration in 1954, served in the Navy and then became an executive, largely with businesses related to sports manufacturing and management. In 1975, he formed Kazmaier Associates, a company that consulted on sports marketing and manufacturing. He was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1966 and spent 10 years as the president of the National Football Foundation.
It would be hard to imagine anyone today winning the Heisman Trophy and not immediately moving to the NFL with a high profile media event and many millions of dollars in signing bonus. That’s not to say that he wasn’t part of high profile events, but he seemed to be more interested in helping accomplish the result, than receiving the public recognition.
Most notable among Kazmaier’s public accomplishments was his contribution to Title-IX. Technically, Title-IX is an evolution of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which was legislation designed to end discrimination based on religion, race, color or national origin. The Education Amendments of 1972 were a key evolution of the Civil Rights Act. Specifically; “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance…” While this wording made no mention of sports, women’s rights groups latched onto this wording and through a number of high profile court cases dramatically changed high school and collegiate athletics. Dick Kazmaier had 6 daughters who were all athletically oriented. Kazmaier used his respected position in the sports community to help develop a support base for fighting the Title-IX battles successfully in court.
In later years Kazmaier served as the director of the American Red Cross, director of the Ladies Professional Golfers Association, trustee of Princeton University and director of the Knight Foundation on Intercollegiate Athletics.
Most Heisman Trophies sit in private collections, display cases at major universities, or occasionally on a shelf in a pawn shop somewhere. Kazmaier donated his Heisman Trophy to his alma mater of Maumee High School, where it is displayed inside a glass case in the main hallway as an inspiration to many aspiring high school athletes. As Heisman’s go, his is likely more accessible than virtually any other.
College sports have become big business in the last 25 years. The notion of a star high school athlete using their athleticism to garner a quality education is probably now confined to history. Most high school sports stars merely use college as a vehicle to showcase their talents with the hope of getting a high dollar professional sports contract. This phenomenon probably explains why the Ivy League hasn’t had a Heisman recipient since Dick Kazmaier in 1951.
Despite all of Dick Kazmaier’s achievements in athletics, business and his philanthropic endeavors, he apparently remained a very self-effacing individual who never sought the spotlight. There are a lot of famous people whom it would have been interesting to meet. On a much shorter list are those people whose words, actions and ethics proved truly inspirational, the kind of person I wish I had had an opportunity to sit with for a full afternoon.
“The Kaz” as one sports writer for Time Magazine once referred to him is gone now. Maybe, what is also gone is that era when college sports and scholarships were an opportunity for athletically gifted people to gain the benefits of a quality college education, and then give back to society.