A back injury that affected legendary Green Bay Packers quarterback Bart Starr throughout his NFL career was the result of a brutal hazing ritual during his college days at Alabama, his wife said.
Cherry Starr told AL.com that her husband was beaten so badly with a wooden paddle before his junior season in 1954 that he eventually required hospitalization. She said Starr chose not to reveal what had happened because he thought “it would make him look bad,” so a cover story was concocted that Starr had suffered the injury during a punting exercise.
Starr, who helped the Crimson Tide win the Southeastern Conference championship as a sophomore, was never the same at Alabama. He missed much of his junior season because of the injury and ended up not being selected until the 17th round by the Packers in the 1956 NFL draft.
Starr went on to lead the Packers to five NFL championships. Now 82, he is battling health issues after suffering two strokes and a heart attack in 2014.
“He was hospitalized at one point in traction," Cherry Starr told AL.com of the hazing incident. "That was in the days when they were initiated into the A-Club, and they had severe beatings and paddling. From all the members of the A-Club, they lined up with a big paddle with holes drilled in it, and it actually injured his back.
She said Starr’s back "was never right after that. It was horrible. It was not a football injury. It was an injury sustained from hazing. His whole back all the way up to his rib cage looked like a piece of raw meat. The bruising went all the way up his back. It was red and black and awful looking. It was so brutal."
Starr’s wife said the injury bothered the quarterback throughout his career and that it wasn’t until the late 1980s that a small crack was discovered in one of Starr’s vertebrae. Starr underwent surgery to “remove a chip,” she said.