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Rubino: How CBS exec, NFL player stepped up after JFK death

It was a no-brainer, long before the term came into vogue.

Of course you cancel professional football games scheduled to be played 48 hours after the president of the United States has been assassinated.

Well, you do if you're Joe Foss, World War II fighter pilot awarded the Medal of Honor and, in 1963, commissioner of the American Football League. And you don't think twice about your league's television contract with ABC.

On Nov. 22, 1963, a Friday, John F. Kennedy was murdered in Dallas, the fourth presidential assassination in United States history, and the first in 62 years. The event was a cataclysmic shock, instantly and in some ways forever traumatizing a nation, and only those not yet alive at the time might think that statement is an exaggeration.

But if you're Pete Rozelle, the 37-year-old NFL commissioner with a mostly public relations background, the show must go on, and to rationalize your decision you issue the following statement: “It has been traditional in sports for athletes to perform in times of great personal tragedy. Football was Mr. Kennedy's game. He thrived on competition.”

Even with 50 years of hindsight, that statement comes off as disingenuous at best and offers a shuddering, alternative meaning to the term “no-brainer,” as in one who is missing common sense, if not a moral compass.

To be fair, and for what it's worth, Rozelle, who died in 1996, had conferred with and received the backing of Kennedy press secretary Pierre Salinger. And in the following decades, Rozelle was quick to express regret over his decision to allow the NFL's seven games to be played on Nov. 24, 1963. However, as we approach the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination, with no shortage of commemorative analysis, Rozelle, even posthumously, must come under fire once again.

But this isn't merely yet another shot at the former NFL commissioner. This is also meant to heap retrospective praise on a television network executive who made an unusual decision, especially for a corporate chieftain, to place news judgment over sports entertainment and profits.

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