My Elite Network: Were you always good at football?
Ron Mix: I think it’s quite interesting. Because I was a late bloomer, I encourage kids not become discouraged if they’re not having success in high school. Some people simply develop later. I was a senior before I became a starter on the varsity, and that was because the guy I replaced was injured. On our 11-man squad, I was easily the worst player. To give you an example, we had just six teams in our league and the highest honor I received was honorable mention. It was basically like a participation award that you get in Little League. I really loved football, so I decided to start working out year-round including lifting weights. Back then, coaches discouraged players from lifting weights because they believed it tied up ones muscles. That logic escaped me. In a game that required strength, I could not imagine how becoming stronger would be a detriment. My master plan was to attend a junior college for two years and then transfer to UCLA, which is where I wanted to play football. So, I started working out. That year it was the first time for an All-Star game between our league and another league. Because the best ends in the league were juniors, the coach literally was stuck me with the All-Stars to fill out the roster. Fortunately, the coach was my high school coach and he knew me. But because I was working out and just had the natural maturation, I had become bigger, faster and more agile. It was an unbelievable transformation. I literally became one of the best players on the All-Star Team. One of the guys on the All-Star team was highly sought after. After about week into practice, he told me that everybody was recruiting him, including the University of Southern California and he told me that he told USC that they should scout me. It turned out that I had good practices and a very good game. USC was the only school to offer me a scholarship. I remember feeling shocked and almost embarrassed because my other teammates were far better than me during the regular season, Here I am, this guy from nowhere gets offered a scholarship to the University of Southern California – it was unbelievable. I was determined to prove USC right, and show them that I could play. By the way, at this time coaches also discouraged you from having sweets or soft drinks. They had the strange idea that carbonated soft drink bubbles would get into your lungs and interfere with your endurance. Some goofy ideas back then. including the idea that weightlifting was bad for you. But, every time I declined sweets or a soft drink, I would remind myself of what my goal was and that kept me on track. I ended up being an All-American at the University of Southern California. I became a nine-time All Pro player and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
My Elite Network: Do you remember being drafted?
Ron Mix: I was the number one draft choice of the Boston Patriots. They later changed their name to the New England Patriots when they moved from Boston. I told them if I had to move back east, it would only be to play for the Colts. So, they traded me to the Los Angeles Chargers.
My Elite Network: Any interesting memories from your playing days?
Ron Mix: The All-Star Game for the AFL was scheduled to be played in New Orleans.
Once we arrived, we were given an itinerary that told us where we were supposed to be, when practice was – just everything. The next day we got on the bus to go to practice and the coach started calling out names to find out if anyone was missing. No black players were on the bus and the coach asked if anyone knew why they absent. One of the players said that all of the black players were having a meeting to discuss boycotting the game because of how they were being treated in New Orleans, a segregated city at the time. So, I got off the bus and went to the meeting, I wanted to hear what was going on. The black players were being turned away at restaurants, could not get taxis, and were treated disrespectfully at the hotel. One group was turned away from a bar at gun point. I was the only white player at the meeting and I told the black players that I would join them in boycotting the game. The game was moved to Houston that week. To the credit of all of the white players, I did not hear any of them complain about the move. New Orleans wanted an NFL franchise and this boycott made the city officials realize they would not get a franchise if New Orleans continued to be a segregated city so they voted to desegregate. Think about it: a few football players doing the right thing caused a city to desegregate.
My Elite Network: Your jersey was retired with the Chargers and then owner Gene Klein took it out of retirement. How did that happen?
Ron Mix: It took Gene a while to learn how to operate a football team, but with time, he became an outstanding owner. Once I retired, my jersey was retired. During this time, I passed the bar and was planning on practicing law. Then the Raiders made me an offer that was outstanding, far more money than I could image. So, I came out of retirement. Gene decided that since I was “un-retired” my jersey should also come out of retirement. I wrote to then NFL Commissioner, Pete Rozelle, and asked him to order the Chargers to retire my jersey again. Pete did so and the jersey was retired but then, a few years later, the Chargers unretired it again. For some unknown reason, I did nothing about it that time and it remains in use.
My Elite Network: Where is your Hall of Fame bust?
Ron Mix: It is in the office at my house. All I wanted to do with football was to be part of a great game, and I end up in the Hall of Fame! It was just astounding! When I got accepted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, one of my surprises was how many of the members were just living month to month. I think there were at least 20 members who were living on just their sole income which was a combination of Social Security plus a very meager NFL pension. I think we had two or three guys living in trailers. I started the Pro Football Hall of Fame Players Association with the purpose of developing products to advance benefits for all members, but particularly to assist those Hall members who really needed money. I came up with the idea to have a Pro Football Hall of Fame Luncheon during Super Bowl week in which we guaranteed to have a Pro Football Hall of Fame member at each table. I’m happy to say that it was an immediate success.
My Elite Network: How did you become General Manager for the WFL Portland Storm?
Ron Mix: Actually, I had become an attorney before I retired from football. Once I retired, I was hired to be the in-house attorney for the Chargers. At this time, the Chargers were in total disarray. The team was fined by the league because the team psychiatrist was providing players with illegal drugs. I had decided to quit and go into private law practice. At the same time, I had a friend who started the Portland franchise and he contacted me to see if I was interested in coming there. The salary was much higher than what I was making with the Chargers, so I decided to roll the dice and go to a new league. That decision turned out to be a total dud because the league went bankrupt.
My Elite Network: What is something that people might not know about you?
Ron Mix: My main interest right now is that I want to help retired players get increased benefits, primarily increased pension benefits. I have been an advocate for increased benefits for years and years. Finally. not just through my efforts, but more so through the efforts of about three or four guys who were actively blogging about benefits and everything we were doing to spread the word. Finally, the conscience of an embarrassed NFL was piqued and they worked with the Players Association to make changes. That was about six or seven years ago and, from those efforts, the Legacy Fund was created/ For the first time, players who played prior to 1993 would receive benefits significant enough to change the lives of many players. In many instances we just brought them up to a subsistence level of living, it didn’t really bring them into a comfort level. But now, some don’t have to worry about living month to month. Still today, there are too many of the guys who are struggling. Added into the struggle to survive, the physical or neurological problems they are having that has an adverse impact on them. There is another collective bargaining agreement coming up, I want to participate in advocating and lobbying for increased pension benefits.
My Elite Network: With all the conversations around CTE, what are your thoughts about children playing football?
Ron Mix: Cute story. When I was in law school in the mid 1960’s, one of my friends was talking on the phone in a phone booth. He was having an impassioned conversation with his wife. When I asked him about it, he told me that they were arguing about whether their son should play Pop Warner football. He was for it and she was against it. So, he told his wife that he has a friend who plays for the Chargers and let’s let Ron Mix make the decision. My friend told me the story with delight like he had just pulled a fast one on his wife because he was certain I would agree that their son should play. To his dismay, I told him that I don’t think kids should play tackle football until they are at least 15. Their bone plates aren’t developed and that could cause permanent damage. In addition, I had watched too many Pop Warner practices and the coaching was not consistently good and there was far too much full-speed contact. So, I wrote a letter explaining my opinion. My friend’s son showed the letter to his teammates and 17 of the boys decide not to play. They ended up not having enough boys for a team that year. Now that we know that the main danger to young people is brain injuries, I feel stronger than ever about this position.
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