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Tony Settles ’87 featured on ESPN documentary “Year of the Scab”

The former Elon football player was a part of the Washington Redskins replacement team during the NFL’s player strike in 1987.

Football player Tony Settles '87 attends the "Year of the Scab" Premiere during the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival at Cinepolis Chelsea on April 27, 2017 in New York City. (Photo: Getty Images/Ilya S. Savenok)

Former Elon football linebacker Tony Settles '87 was featured in ESPN's 30 for 30 "Year of the Scab" documentary, which aired Sept. 12.

Settles was a part of the Washington Redskins replacement team during the NFL's player strike during the 1987 season. Settles played in all three games as linebacker and helped earn the franchise three wins during the strike.

>> Watch the ESPN 30 For 30 documentary

An aspiring high school football player in Laurinburg, North Carolina, Settles learned about Elon from an assistant football coach at his school who was an Elon alumnus. "I was impressed with Elon's academics, the whole [football] program," he remembers. Shortly after, Settles was awarded a scholarship to play at Elon College. From that point on, "it was all about taking in the college life … it was enlightening," says Settles.

Settles played for five years at Elon as an outside linebacker and majored in business administration with an emphasis in computer science. His favorite memory was starting his first game at Elon, and some of his most exciting times were playing then rival teams such as Carson Newman and Presbyterian.

By the time he graduated in 1987, many NFL players went on strike citing unrestricted free agency as the cause, which was not allowed at the timeMost notably, this effort was led by Gene Upshaw, head of the NFL Players Association. In September of that year, NFL owners and coaches were grabbing replacement players, later dubbed "scabs," to play in the absence of striking professionals. These replacement players crossed the often-times dangerous protest lines to live their dream of playing in the NFL, a dream that for most only lasted for three weeks.

Settles went to training camp for the Redskins and though he was released on the final cut, he made an impression that would impact him later when Bobby Beathard, general manager of the Washington Redskins and parent of Elon football player Casey Beathard '90, called him to play as a replacement during the strike. A little nervous, Settles took the opportunity and hopped on a plane and arrived that Monday morning to Washington, D.C.

Tony Settles '87 stands for the Closing Night screening audience at the Newseum on June 18, 2017.

"It was a familiar place, but I was seeing different guys," says Settles of his first day with the Redskins replacement team. Under Coach Joe Gibbs, the replacement team fought hard and had a unified front, leading them to three wins. Fans roared while the underdogs paved the way for the franchise to win the Super Bowl that season. After the three games with the replacement players, NFL pros returned back to their teams and gradually ended the strike. Most replacement Redskins were not offered permanent spots on the roster, but they have permanent memories of their time in the limelight.

"When we were making this film we set out to make something about the NFL strike in 1987 that was fun and about how crazy it was that nobodies got plucked from obscurity to play on the biggest stage in sports," said film director John Dorsey. "But in focusing on the replacement experience in Washington, we discovered there was a much more substantive story to be told and a wrong that needed to be righted.

"These guys spent the last 30 years branded as scabs, as villains. But the truth is what they accomplished was kind of heroic. And like real heroes, they aren't raising their hands looking for recognition for what they did. We went looking for the real-life replacements and we found them hiding in plains sight."

Settles is a financial management analyst at Unisys Corp in Washington, D.C.

Information submitted by Elon Athletics staff

Keren Rivas,
9/13/2017 2:15 PM