Something Has To Change: NFL Players And Post-Career Safety Measures

Bull City, Football — By on May 7, 2012 at 10:00 am


Every year more and more evidence shows up to support the notion that post-career medical evaluations are needed for NFL veterans. The NFL keeps preaching player safety but it seems as if something is not right with their agenda. One minute they are constructing rules changes, then the next minute they want to extend the game schedule by a couple of games. The NFL has a conundrum to worry about as more and more players are suffering from severe concussions that are hampering and shortening careers in the league.

Let’s keep it real. When the game was invented, no one knew that linemen would be weighing 340 pounds and running sub 4.9 forty yard dashes. No one knew that running backs and linebackers would be weighing in at 250 pounds and running sub 4.4 forty yard dashes. There is no way that equipment can keep up with the evolution of the human body. The human body was not meant to endure the size and speed that football brings to the table today. Long term brain injuries are bound to become more plentiful in this new era of football.

Whenever people talked or wrote about the long-term brain injuries of football players, the focus was always on the linemen since they were the players who took the most hits and suffered the most physical abuse. I remember reading about former Pittsburgh Steelers center Mike Webster who struggled mightily with brain trauma before his death nine years ago. A coroner named Bennet Omalu received permission to study Webster’s brain and found large accumulations of proteins clogging his brain cells. Omalu called it Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE.

Webster’s brain was just the first one Omalu and his colleague Julian Bailes studied. They looked at the brain of several offensive and defensive linemen because they were subject to contact on every play. For the most part, though, these were the guys in the trenches, guys willingly suffering repeated violent collisions for the glory we showered upon them. Many of them probably knew going in that they were trading years of their lives for that glory.  It was their choice to make, so we let them, because we love to watch combat. The more physical the combat is, the better for the fans.

I, like most fans, was skeptical of CTE and if it really existed. I played football at a high level and I came out fine. However I did lose a college teammate to CTE so I knew that it was possible. The fact that CTE really existed hit me really hard when Chris Henry, a wide receiver who played only two seasons of college football and a grand total of 47 games in the NFL, was believed to have suffered from it.

Chris Henry didn’t play in the trenches. He had a history of bad decision-making before he died, yes, but he had no known history of concussions. Receivers like Henry and Randy Moss in general don’t suffer the sort of abuse that linemen and linebackers subject themselves to regularly, at least, we didn’t think they did. These guys are finesse guys and its funny that one has had the brain trauma and the other has had twice as many touches and there is no evidence that he has ever had any head injuries. Yet, there’s the scientific proof that Henry had the exact same brain trauma that Mike Webster and the other interior guys had.

I have seen players who because of the brain trauma that have suffered from depression and that lead me to wonder about the death of Junior Seau. A man who seemingly had it all, did it all, and gave so much back dealt with the demons that eventually led to his end. There will be skeptics who say these guys bring it on themselves but the reality of the matter is that they need some help past their playing days and it’s just not there.

Now that the NFL is considering adding games to the regular season more attention and more injury will probably ensue. I keep hearing the people who are opposing the rules changes that are put into place to make life easier for players. I have even found myself questioning some of the moves that appear to be turning the game into a less physical and less unique brand of football. The question I would like to bring is this; would we rather watch modified football or football that we know and love?

There’s a never ending conundrum when it comes to evaluating safety in the NFL and the post-care methods for players who are struggling due to injuries later in life. I want to see a violent game because it is more fun to watch, but as a fan I also cringe at the tragedy that takes place when a player gets used up by the league. It’s a kind of question that makes even a lifelong football fan such as myself step back and think, “My God, what have we done?”

Stay Breezy ~ I’m Out!

Joe Simmons

Color Commentator for Time Warner Cable Sports Network NC/SC/OH and NCCU Sports Network. Washed up athlete who used to ball, now I write and call.

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    11 Comments

  • JAG says:

    Well said, sir. Good to have your perspective.

    We’re realizing how tough football players and boxers have it because the rest of the population is living longer. Fifty years ago, football players’ life expectancy was around 60, which was not far off the national average. Advances in modern medicine have been outstanding in most areas but repeated head trauma is still a problem and the discrepancy has been exposed.

    Goodell can forget about 18 games. If he’s smart, he’ll pretend he never thought of it in the first place.

    • Joe Simmons says:

      Unfortunately he may get his way because owners only want to make more money. Pre season games don’t generate revenue and owners can stretch out payments over 18 games instead of 16. Addition by subtraction.

  • Ben G says:

    This hits home. My dad is doing research on some players that have had multiple concussions. The life expectancy of former NFL players and boxers is somewhere around 58 years old and for baseball players it’s 72. That is a big difference.

  • Chuck Chillout aka @CoolBlack06 aka The Franchise #MoneyTeam aka Kim Jong-ILL aka Claude Thibadeaux [of French Guyana] aka The M.I.L.F. Whisperer aka The 5th Horseman [WHOOOOOOOO!] says:

    Man…the death of Junior Seau has really hit home for me. Remember a few months ago when dude just DROVE his truck off the side of a cliff? I also heard that he had told one of his friends a few months ago that he’d rather die than continue living like this.

    Mike Webster, Chris Henry and Junior Seau were high-profile players. I wonder how many other cases are there of lesser known players who’ve endured brain trauma that has led to troubles in life, relationships and with the law.

    Has anybody seen that ESPN story about Jim McMahon? His wife has to put a GPS in his car programmed with their house in case he gets lost…and dude is only in his early 50s. Like Kurt Warner, this is all really making me re-consider if I want my nephew or eventual son to even step on a football field

    • Joe Simmons says:

      The evolution of the game is crazy. It seems like a kid is paralyzed or killed every season now. It used to happen every 10 years. Now it seems like every 4 weeks.

  • Compelling read. It really is the conundrum we’re in as fans and as society. We love football for it brutalness, but no one really wants to see it hinder these athletes we root for or against in their lives away from the field. Sadly, it seems to be happening more and more, as players get bigger and faster and stronger and create more violent hits than ever before.

    It’s a shame. Football has always been described as a gladiator sport. Now it really is living out in the ancient gladiator tradition. We are watching men battle, ultimately to their death, for our entertainment. Scary thought, but it seems to be the way of it. We want our football and our brutal game, but we don’t want to terrible consequences. Sadly, we can’t have it both ways.

  • JT says:

    Real.good post.. Just like a lot yall already said we love the violent hits but who knew everybody would be so big and fast… The super said thing is in this sport they put their body on the line and have to work the hardest To get compensated for their efforts.. I hope they don’t go to an 18 game season. The NFL has to do more to help the players who built this LG from the 53rd player to the superstar once they are retired ..Seau killing himself shined a light on a situation that needs to be dealt with because the hits will keep happening the players are too strong and fast but we can at least help with post football conditions

    • Joe Simmons says:

      Man…
      Every time I read what someone has posted I can’t help but think of Shark in Any Given Sunday. Sometimes we let money and fame drive our will to compete and often times we live in the now instead of thinking about our futures as the game is not going to be there forever. If you think about it, when a guy takes himself out of a game because he is hurting we call them names and chastise them on twitter. I can’t help but remember when Jay Cutler took himself out after being hurt and we called him soft and scared. Maybe he was looking out for himself and his family. Maybe more players should error on the side of caution.

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