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Oh, to ’do what Chicago AP sportswriter Joe Mooshil could ’do

Sportswriter Joe Mooshil (left) talks with Sandy Koufax (right) Dodgers manager Walt AlstChicago 1964. Mooshil died Sept. 7 85. |

Sportswriter Joe Mooshil (left) talks with Sandy Koufax (right) and Dodgers manager Walt Alston in Chicago in 1964. Mooshil died Sept. 7 at 85. | AP

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Updated: October 17, 2012 6:38AM

Everybody needs role models.

Without them, we would have no blueprint or even a vague dotted line to help us move into adulthood.

Charles Barkley can say he’s no role model. But he is one, regardless. It’s just what kind of role model he is.

And so I think of Joe Mooshil, the longtime Chicago Associated Press sportswriter and editor, who died last Friday.

Moosh was a sports scribe of the first order. A no-nonsense, cigar-chomping World War II vet with a stentorian voice that sounded like Charlton Heston on the Mount — if Heston had grown up riding the L. Moosh was fair, tough, accurate, thorough and on time.

It was through men such as Mooshil that for generations the American public got its sports news and made decisions about facts we assumed were true and untainted. And with Mooshil, there was no doubt.

But what I truly loved about Joe was his hair. I told him often, in press boxes, at games, on the set of the ‘‘Sportswriters on TV’’ show, which he often participated in with legendary Chicagoans Bill Gleason, Ben Bentley and Bill Jauss. And me. I was on the show, a mere kid at the start, because, as producer John Roach said, ‘‘We needed somebody without a prostate problem.’’

During breaks, I would say to Moosh, ‘‘Joe, I want your hair.’’

His hair — black, then graying, then aged to a silver splendor — was thick and lustrous and protruded in front like the bowsprit of a sailing vessel. His natural pompadour made Fonzie’s look like a fraud. Rod Blagojevich could only dream of such authenticity.

Moosh would look at me, lean back in his chair, smile while pondering my unrequited yearning, and then, with a certain regal calm, puff a big blue cloud of smoke toward me like a bomb.

Those old Chicago scribes were something. They were men. Without trying, they were teachers of more than any journalism school could offer.

Last Monday, I looked at Joe lying in repose at the Smith-Corcoran funeral home on the Northwest Side, his side of town. His wife, Claire, was there, as were his three lovely daughters and their families.

Moosh held a rosary in his big hands, and a large stogie protruded from the breast pocket of his dark suit. His hair, it looked beautiful.

And so did he.

IN ESPN THE MAGAZINE’S recent NFL issue, Cleveland Browns linebacker Scott Fujita, who was involved in the ‘‘Bounty-gate’’ scandal while with the New Orleans Saints three years ago and has a master’s degree in education from the University of California, talks about the deceptive, frightening and impossible-to-dismiss value of using one’s head as a weapon in football.

‘‘Using your head works. It really is the most efficient way to take on a blocker,’’ he says.

‘‘So now you’ve been in the league a couple years. You love the game and love your life, but you start to wonder, ‘Is that good for me?’ And quietly, you try to be less violent and not use the crown of your head so much. Only now you’re not as effective. And you know it. And the huge balancing act begins.

‘‘Do I want to protect my brain? Or do I want to make 15 tackles a game and keep my job? Because right behind you on the depth chart is a 22-year-old kid who is more than happy to come down the field full-speed and stroke that right guard in the chest with the crown of his head, over and over and over again. Only he doesn’t have a wife and three kids. He hasn’t seen friends from football suffer and die.

‘‘If we want to talk about really changing the culture of the game and the game evolving, that right there is what we should be focused on.’’

This is correct. Fujita is right.

Except the dilemma is there even for high school kids and collegians, for football players at all levels, young males who don’t have wives or kids or pro careers but do have brains.

The essential problem is that the head sits in the middle of the shoulders and can’t be removed or fully protected. Encased in unbreakable and harder-than-bone plastic, the head becomes the tip of the spear, the hammer. Yet the brain floats like jelly inside the helmet and the skull, slamming this way and that.

That some athletes, like Fujita, have no problem using their heads as battering rams, despite causing their own brain damage, whether for pride or money or pleasure, is another mystery.

Having coached junior high players for two years, I witnessed the difference between those who will ‘‘hit’’ and those who will not. One does not become the other. I don’t know why. It has nothing to do with cowardice. Nothing to do with future productivity. Nothing to do with size or speed or intelligence.

I wonder sometimes about football and all its splendid insanity. Wild.

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