Harry Carson has been a New York Giants linebacker for seven years. During that time, he says, no one has ever asked him about the possibility of being injured. Until this week.
"I get to this all-star game and all everyone wants to know is how I feel about being hurt," said Carson, a member of the NFC East team in Sunday's National Football League Players Association all-star game. "I mean, if you get it, you get it. What can you do about it? You just go out and play any week and take what happens to you."
But the risk of injury still has become a controversial aspect of this already controversial game, which starts at 1 p.m. in RFK Stadium. Some players who declined invitations used the injury factor as a reason. Teams have been asking their best players not to participate to avoid the possibility of being hurt.
Before putting on the game, the union had to secure adequate insurance to protect the players' health, even those who have guaranteed contracts. But Ed Newman, a standout guard for the Miami Dolphins, says the league "wants to get everyone uptight about injuries. They want us to worry about them, more so than we really should.
"The risk of being hurt is always there, naturally. And you have to be concerned about it. But there is this idea that it's all right to die for your own army but a waste to die for somebody else's. In other words, if you get hurt, get hurt for the Dolphins and not the NFLPA.
"I don't agree with that. We are all here because of a principle that we really believe in. We believe in the union and what it is doing enough to risk getting hurt. We are on strike to improve our working conditions and this is one way to show our support.
"I would regret getting hurt in this game and then not being able to perform for Miami Dolphin fans. But that is something I have to face."
Newman said the game will be conducted "with a certain level of sportsmanship. You have to play it with some brains. There will be hitting, good solid hitting. But if a guy has a shot at my knees, or I have a shot at his, we'll pass it up. There won't be as much cut blocking as you see normally in a game."
Buffalo's Fred Smerlas, dressing near Newman's locker, walked over to his teammate to lend support. Both admitted that they were irritated that fans evidently couldn't understand why concern about injuries shouldn't prevent players from participating Sunday.
"Don't people understand that the so-called system in this league doesn't work for the players and that we have to do everything we can to change it?" Smerlas said. "I played well when I first came into the league and when I went to bargain a new contract, I found out how much good it did me. You have no bargaining power. If we don't make a stand with games like this, management will never understand how serious we are, injuries or no injuries."
Still, veteran players agree they are facing some unfamiliar tasks in this game: special team duties. And treading unfamiliar territory in football sometimes leads to unavoidable injuries.
"I'm on at least one special team," said tackle Joe Jacoby of the Redskins. "It seems strange. When you are out there thinking instead of moving naturally, you never know what will happen. There are a lot of older guys who haven't played special teams in years. But they will have to here. I wonder what will happen."
Most of the players have adopted an attitude reflected by Detroit's Gary Danielson: "We've taken injury risks hundreds of times. It comes with the territory. You can't spend time worrying about it. You just play."
Meanwhile, the NFLPA continued to scramble to fill the rosters, especially the NFC East team's. C. E. Altman, a game promoter, yesterday said 12,000 tickets had been sold. He hoped as many as 30,000 would attend Sunday.
Four NFC players officially were dropped yesterday: linebackers Hugh Green and E.J. Junior, defensive end Ken Clark and punter Max Runager. Only Runager had reported and practiced, but he became ill. Added to the roster were cornerback Ray Waddy, a former Redskin who now is a free agent, and linebacker Bruce Huther of Chicago. Defensive end Lee Roy Selmon and defensive tackle Bill Gay arrived yesterday to give the NFC four defensive linemen. The NFLPA said it expects to add four more NFC players today, including a punter.