Sen. John F. Kennedy speaks at the Long Island Arena...

Sen. John F. Kennedy speaks at the Long Island Arena in Commack on Nov. 6, 1960. Credit: Newsday

This column was originally published in Newsday on Nov. 25, 1963.

In a period of profound national mourning the little world of sports has not emerged with glory. The business-as-usual brigade, unwilling to close its box-offices even for the assassination of a President, stands indicted as vulgar, heartless and arrogantly self-centered by even the most generous of interpretations.

It is true, as many people have said, that the National Football League should have postponed its schedule yesterday. The NFL is paying the price for its prestige and prosperity by being singled out as the chief offender. But the NFL has sordid company: the horses raced at Pimlico over the weekend, the Knicks shot baskets, the Rangers skated. Most college football teams had the grace to call off their games but such distinguished universities as Oklahoma, Nebraska, Tennessee, Kentucky, Auburn and Louisiana State felt that their petty football affairs had to be carried on at any cost.

Because it involved the biggest crowds and the highest stakes, the National Football League must endure the most criticism. This is particularly true because the rival American Football League quickly postponed its entire schedule. In this case the "little league" of pro football was "big league."

Commissioner Pete Rozelle is talking full responsibility for the NFL decision. He said after yesterday's game at Yankee Stadium that he made it before he was able to talk to the owners of all 14 teams. (At least one team -- Philadelphia -- was strongly in favor of postponement.) However, the club owners must share responsibility. Rozelle is their hired man and they could have overruled him had they chosen to do so.

In fairness to Rozelle, money did not influence his decision. "That had absolutely nothing to do with it,'' he insisted. He pointed out that the clubs could have drawn as many fans at a later date. In fact, his decision may cost the league some $300,000 in television revenue, depending on legal discussions now under way.

Why play then? "I do not feel it was disrespectful,'' Rozelle insisted. "Everyone has a different way of paying their respects. I went to church this morning and prayed for the President. I assume these 63,000 people who were at the game today did too.''

Sen. Charles Schumer, Rep. Peter King, former Gov. David Paterson and other local politicians and historians share their views on President John F. Kennedy's legacy. Videojournalists: Robert Cassidy, Chuck Fadely and Chris Ware (Nov. 19, 2013)

By an accident of the schedule, neither Dallas nor Washington was scheduled to play at home yesterday. If they had been, Rozelle admits, "It would have been a different problem, a different set of circumstances. That's all I can say. Draw your own conclusions.''

The conclusions are obvious. Even the NFL would not have had the effrontery to play football yesterday in Dallas or Washington.

But if it was wrong to play football in Dallas and Washington yesterday, its was no less wrong to play in New York and Cleveland and Los Angeles. John F. Kennedy was no less the President of those cities, and his tragic death is felt there no less.

The men who run the big store in pro football doubtless did not intend disrespect, but they showed it nevertheless. They are guilty of execrable bad taste, and the customers who jammed into their stadiums yesterday must share the guilt.

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