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Olsen was a man of character

September 10, 2011|By Leigh Steinberg

Editor's Note: This column originally appeared online at National Football Post.

I fell in love with the NFL in the late '50s and '60s because my father took my brothers and I to Rams game at the Los Angeles Coliseum. They were nosebleed seats, which necessitated telescope-strength field glasses to follow the action, but we loved the Rams. The Fearsome Foursome defensive line eviscerated opposing quarterbacks, wreaking havoc on offenses throughout the League.

Deacon Jones, Lamar Lundy and Roosevelt Grier were devastating and colorful, but my favorite was the "gentle giant" Merlin Olsen. He played 15 years for the Rams, was selected to 14 Pro Bowls and later inducted into the Hall of Fame. In 2009, he was diagnosed with mesothelioma, "asbestos cancer," and died not long after at age 69.

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Asbestos is a compound that is used in heavy equipment and mixed into drywalls. Harvard Medical professors and the Assistant Surgeon General of the United States have testified that exposure for even a few minutes to this substance greatly increases the risk of cancer. Fifty countries around the world have banned this substance, unfortunately the United States has given in to industry pressure and refused to outlaw this cancer-producing substance.

Many of the homes constructed in the 1960s and '70s in this country have concentrations of asbestos in their drywalls. Readers need to be especially careful when remodeling or reconstruction occurs in their homes so as not to be exposed. The family of Olsen filed a wrongful death suit against major corporations such as Georgia Pacific and Caterpillar, alleging that their use of asbestos in machinery and building caused his cancer. Their stated desire was not to seek personal enrichment but to use any award for advancing public awareness of the dangers and risks of asbestos.

Olsen grew up in Utah and economic circumstances forced him to work on construction projects as a youth. He continued this through college. His early sports career was less than auspicious. One of his coaches counseled him to "work hard on the books because you certainly have no future in sports." He dressed in overalls and was very clumsy and was teased by his peers, but that changed.

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