Hometown Report

Hometown Report: Bunz says NFL’s tarnished image affects former players, too

Joe Davidson
Joe Davidson

D an Bunz played eight NFL seasons. He gave his mind, body and soul to the game, enduring shoulder, back and knee injuries that still make him wince just crawling out of bed. He suffered more concussions than he has fingers. He frets over memory loss and the toll it might take on his family.

And now anyone associated with the league is fighting an image issue, said Bunz, the former 49ers linebacker by way of Oakmont High School, citing reports of domestic abuse and legal terms such as “due process.”

“I don’t know if I should be proud to tell people that I played for the 49ers and Detroit Lions, or if they’ll look at me and think, ‘Was he a drug addict? Did he do steroids? Did he beat up people – women, even?’ ” Bunz, 58, said Monday during a break from teaching physical education at Sutter Middle School. “There are a lot of good people in the NFL, but a small portion of players have done horrible things. That small percentage makes the entire league look bad, and that’s sad.”

Bunz calls it the “1 percent rule,” a measurement guide he uses in education.

“One person out of an entire group can ruin it for everyone if he’s disruptive,” Bunz said. “In school, we get rid of you if it continues. Have to, because if you keep that person around, he’ll ruin it for everyone. But that doesn’t happen enough in the NFL, and it should.”

Tedy Bruschi, another former NFL linebacker with Placer County ties, called Friday for the resignation or termination of Commissioner Roger Goodell.

“As a former player that spent 13 years in this league trying to do the right thing, I want a new commissioner to lead my league,” the 41-year-old Bruschi, who played at Roseville High, said on ESPN. “I want a commissioner to go out there and say the right things and be that leader, because right now, Roger Goodell is not that, and I don’t think he can ever be that. The big reset needs to be pushed on the entire NFL, and it starts by Roger Goodell stepping down.”

Bunz doesn’t hide his anger with the NFL and how he and thousands of retired players believe they deserve better medical benefits and pensions. Bunz said change is needed in the NFL, specifically accountability. He wonders about the mixed messages the NFL is sending with such a large audience – how the league can back breast cancer research but doesn’t appear strong enough on domestic violence.

“The NFL can change, and it has to,” Bunz said. “We’ve seen some of this for too long.”

During his era, Bunz said, teams often protected players with drug problems “because if a guy can help you win, teams will keep him, but when he can’t help you anymore, you’re toast. The NFL can really clean up its image by setting better examples. Character flaws? Don’t accept bad guys anymore. It’s bad for the league, a bad message. Cut guys who do drugs, who beat people, and fine or fire coaches and general managers who allow those players to remain or cover it up.

“I remember the Steroid Era, played in it. You’d hear coaches say, ‘You’ve got to get bigger, stronger,’ and they say, ‘Remember, there’s drug testing next month, so get ready.’ Coaches needed their jobs, we needed our jobs, and everything was based on winning. It’s still all about winning.

“In San Francisco, when I had that bad shoulder, I kept hearing, ‘Keep playing him. We’ll try to get another body in here in a couple of weeks.’ If that’s still going on, it’s got to stop. Clean it up.”

Bunz said the NFL should have a zero-tolerance policy regarding domestic violence, adding he doesn’t understand what would prompt a man to batter a woman.

“I don’t get that,” he said. “Was that how a guy was raised?”

Bunz recalled being at a bar in his first weeks with the Lions in 1985 when a jealous boyfriend started to grab a woman, cursing her. Bunz stepped in.

“Domestic violence anywhere is just wrong – don’t ever put a hand on a woman,” Bunz said. “I grabbed this guy and told him to stop, but I didn’t know he had three drunk buddies with him, and they all jumped me. One kicked me in the face. Broke my nose. I looked like Rocky Balboa, but you know what? I’d do it again. You stick to what you believe in.”

Bunz said he made peace with former 49ers coach Bill Walsh years after they had harsh words when Walsh released the linebacker, who had helped the team win two Super Bowls.

Now he’s trying to make peace with the NFL and its tarnished image.