FanDuel - WFBC

January 21, 2007

'Football is a Great Game Until You Turn 45': Remember The Catch? Twenty five years later, the San Francisco Chronicle covers The Cost. "Montana's left knee is essentially shredded. His right eye occasionally sags from nerve damage. His neck is so stiff, he could not turn his head ... Clark, also 50, endures sharp pain every time he lifts his arms above his head ... because of a bent screw in his left shoulder and arthritis in his right shoulder."

posted by rcade to football at 09:34 AM - 22 comments

That's a great story, rcade. With all the information coming out today, due to our ability to benefit from modern medical studies, it shows NFL players, especially those who played many years, take a significant number of years off their life due to the violence of the sport. I used to work for a newspaper and got to be on the sidelines for some NFL games, and as the story mentions, when you get up close to the size, strength, and speed of these guys, how they sound like a herd of horses going by, and witness the intensity of the contact, it really puts the game into perspective for the average fan. We can sit around and critique players for their effort, or what we consider lack of effort sometimes, or for not making a catch, hearing footsteps, or avoiding contact, but if we had to endure the physical pain they did, we probably wouldn't be so quick to criticize them. Having played many sports avidly over the years, I have a lot of pain in joints, etc., from those, but can't even begin to imagine what ex-NFL players go through after their careers. I realize many make very good money, and their career choice is their own decision, but money at the expense of your health and ultimately part of your life may not be worth it.

posted by dyams at 10:12 AM on January 21

Unfortunately, it's not just the NFL players who suffer those longterm injuries. While watching the recent NCAA Bowl games, I was surprised to see how many 18-21 year old players have a knee brace, or two, for that matter. And most of those players will not get an NFL contract. I've heard an NFL lineman compare what he does to a 30 mph head-on car crash, 50 times a game, with 30 second intervals in between. With the average NFL salary at a few hundred thousand a year, it hardly seems compensation for the years of pain of just getting out of bed in the morning.

posted by jphclub at 10:28 AM on January 21

an eye-opening article indeed. hopefully, advances in sports medicine and rehabilitation will help athletes lead somewhat normal lives after their careers are over. I saw Outside the Lines this morning and they were showing how the use of HGH can be used to help athletes recover from injuries during and after their careers. When these players are in their mid-twenties and full of vigor and always in the spotlight and put on pedastals by the public, i'm sure they are not thinking about the consequences they will face physically after their careers are over. personally, i have been playing baseball professionally now for eleven seasons and can feel the effects on my body. my knees ache all the time and am now having back problems that will not fully go away, even with the help of medication and physical therapy three times a week. i cannot imagine what an ex-football, hockey, or basketball player must go through throughout the rest of their lives. I am also interested to see the health of some of these ballplayers who abused steroids throughout their career in 15 to 20 years. it won't be pretty.

posted by erkno11 at 10:29 AM on January 21

And you can add to all of these injuries the shocking statistic that one of four pro and NCAA football players will be dead by 50,due to trauma,overweight and other factors.

posted by sickleguy at 10:34 AM on January 21

jphclub: for what it is worth, almost all linemen now wear knee and ankle braces as a defensive tactic, to prevent against knee blowouts, not as recognition of past blowouts. Otherwise, completely agreed with everything said here- scary what people do to themselves.

posted by tieguy at 10:39 AM on January 21

sickleguy, do you have a source for that? And how does it compare to the population at large? This is one of those articles that should be added to the Spofi wiki for all the "overpaid whiners" posts that will spring up during contract time.

posted by yerfatma at 10:43 AM on January 21

I found it telling that the sons of some of these NFL pros are choosing other sports because of what their fathers endure in retirement. How many of these 49ers could have excelled in another sport, given their athleticism? There was a story in ESPN Magazine a couple of years ago about a former Dallas Cowboys defensive player who was living in Houston, suffering mental woes and complete financial ruin along with his health woes. I wish I could remember the athlete, because it provides another view of the brutal toll football players endure.

posted by rcade at 10:57 AM on January 21

yerfatma: I was JUST about to say the exact same thing.

posted by grum@work at 11:00 AM on January 21

If any information is available, I'd be interested to know what percentage of professional athletes do suffer lifelong injuries. Whether it be PCS, ligament, joint, or muscle related. Thanks tieguy for your comment, I'm glad there is a preventative nature already in the minds of these athletes. I agree erkno, it will be interesting to witness the aging process under these circumstances.

posted by jphclub at 11:01 AM on January 21

Another thing to remember here is that the retirement packages for most NFL players dont cover the cost of the treatment they need later down the road.And most players never sign that "big money contract".And for those who say "they still get a couple hundred thousand dollars a year",remember that players have to pay taxes to every state they play in during the season on top of the taxes taken when they sign the contract.I was once told that football was like smoking in that only a fool will give up tomorrow for the joy given today.

posted by jda at 11:11 AM on January 21

Good stuff rcade. yerfatma, I was thinking the same thing as I read it. It should also be brought up when people want to give Barry Sanders and Tiki Barber crap about retiring early. That said, I found this quote pretty interesting: Twenty-five years later, the players on San Francisco's first Super Bowl champions wholeheartedly agreed: They have zero regrets ... Said Montana: "I wouldn't trade it for anything -- the excitement, the fun, the friendships. There's nothing like a Sunday afternoon." Similarly, this was in today's NYT: The N.F.L.’s Blue-Collar Workers, (you may have to log in to read it). It's a Week in Review follow up on the Andre Waters suicide story from earlier in the week. It says: Last year, a Scripps Howard News Service study found that “football players are more than twice as likely to die before age 50” as Major League Baseball players are, and that many of those who died suffered from obesity, or from ailments tied to obesity like heart disease.

posted by SummersEve at 11:40 AM on January 21

Good article, and I argue this same thing anytime people come on these forums and start bitching about how much athletes make. There was a very touching documentary about this about a decade ago, wish I could see it again (a ex-player who had to ice his back down 8 hours a day, for example) I played football 15 years, yet at 35 I am dealing with all kinds of "football" issues. I've had 2 shoulder surgeries, can't run with my kids without my knees locking up on me, a herniated disk in my back that won't seem to go away, a shoulder that pops out of joint, and constant neck and lowerback pain. Yet I only went as high as 1AA football and played relatively injury free during those years (only 1 broken collarbone and a groin pull). I can't imagine the guys that played 1A (against faster/larger competition) or Pro (even faster/larger). And yes, the average life expectancy of an NFL player is 22 years less than the national average http://www.statenews.com/article.phtml?pk=32211 So for all those ignorant masses who complain that these "primadonnas" holding out for that extra "million", realize that the average career is less than 4 years, that money will have to last them a lifetime, their life will be shortened, and even that shortened life will be left with pain. As for me, I loved the game, and still do. I don't regret playing and I will support my son if he wants to play it as well. But I will NOT be forcing him into it. You have to LOVE it to be willing to put up with everything that surrounds it, so unless he does, I will not make him. BTW - in that documentary I mentioned, despite the 12-13 surgeries, the icing down, etc., all of the players they asked if they would do it again all said "yes".

posted by bdaddy at 12:28 PM on January 21

It says: Last year, a Scripps Howard News Service study found that “football players are more than twice as likely to die before age 50” as Major League Baseball players are, and that many of those who died suffered from obesity, or from ailments tied to obesity like heart disease. Yea, everyone always thinks of football players as these chiseled, bodybuilder types. Other than the skill positions (RB, WR, DB), most of the football players I knew were fat asses. They were really strong and really fast fat asses, but they were still fat. More like "North Dallas Forty" than "Any Given Sunday". Being fat you're more prone to heart disease, etc., so that certainly explains the short life expectancy.

posted by bdaddy at 12:37 PM on January 21

Twenty-five years ago, (almost?) all pro players were under 300 pounds. I wonder how much worse future generations of football players will be as weights continually increase. I think the NCAA and NFL should impose a 300 pound weight limit. I don't think any fan would notice any decrease in game quality.

posted by Aardhart at 12:51 PM on January 21

I think the NCAA and NFL should impose a 300 pound weight limit. Yeah! That would be great! Then they could be healthy, just like college wrestlers.

posted by tieguy at 01:15 PM on January 21

I think there would be a dramatic difference between imposing a maximum pound ceiling in football and trying to make weight in wrestling. That's just a little too riddled with hyperbole.

posted by igottheblues at 01:30 PM on January 21

Great article tieguy. The effects of any intense training are in all sports at any level. As long as physical domination=high dollar contract, the players will do everything they can to be successful in the short term, its hard to blame them for that.

posted by jphclub at 01:33 PM on January 21

I read recently that the G forces generated during a collision at speed on a football field can exceed those of a car wreck. Running backs are not equipped with airbags (although some seem to have windbags), so I do not wonder that there are serious long-term health effects. This being said, I think that any athlete wishing to compete at a high level in football does so with full knowledge of the risks. I have often said that you are not paid what you deserve, but what you can negotiate. Perhaps the players should make sure that adequate long-term medical coverage, as well as better pay and retirement benefits are included in their contracts. Getting better pay and benefits in the NFL is possible, but what can a player do at the collegiate level? The NCAA frowns upon players receiving monetary inducement to play a sport. I should think that there could be some standard insurance scheme developed for both scholarship and walk-on athletes.

posted by Howard_T at 03:34 PM on January 21

Tieguy, Thanks for the link to the article. I think there's a huge difference between trying to get down to 150 pounds or 118 pounds and not trying to get up to 360 pounds. Regardless, I would wager that thirty years after graduation college wrestlers are far, far healthier than college football players. A 300 pound weight limit would not eliminate all bad effects, and may introduce some new ones, but I think the overall effect would be greatly beneficial.

posted by Aardhart at 06:02 PM on January 21

That said, I found this quote pretty interesting: Twenty-five years later, the players on San Francisco's first Super Bowl champions wholeheartedly agreed: They have zero regrets ... Said Montana: "I wouldn't trade it for anything -- the excitement, the fun, the friendships. There's nothing like a Sunday afternoon." Isn't this just the quintessential romantic idiom? Basically dying for glory? The whole better to burn out than fade away type thing? Ah, The mythic sport of football. Personally, I think these guys are just too fucking big. We're producing these human hybrids that are physically very positionally specific and they're really hurting each other. There's an obvious science at work in how these people are identified and encouraged in specific ways. Four hundred pound humans battering each other on the arena floor. I'm not suggesting its necessarily barbaric - but it sure is interesting. There really aren't many sports like football.

posted by WeedyMcSmokey at 07:03 PM on January 21

tieguy: sickleguy, do you have a source for that? And how does it compare to the population at large? tieguy: Here's some details from the end of the posted article:

Most players on the '81 49ers are dealing with orthopedic issues, but Andrews, the Birmingham doctor, and his colleague, Dr. John Richardson, are studying the long-term cardiovascular risks facing former NFL players. These risks, Richardson said, are linked in many ways to the widespread orthopedic problems. The injuries often prevent former players from exercising after their football careers, leading to weight gain and increased risk of type-2 diabetes and heart disease. Richardson put the risk of a 300-pound man dying from cardiovascular disease at three times higher than the general population; he cited the 2005 death of 49ers offensive lineman Thomas Herrion as a frightening example. The NFL said there were 354 players listed at 300 pounds or more on opening day of the 2006 season. "So it's just going to get worse," Richardson said.
I guess Dr Andrews should know, since he just had a heart bypass operation performed on him by Dr Richardson.

posted by worldcup2002 at 07:38 PM on January 21

Interesting article, and great post. Btw, did anyone catch Jerry Rice on The Daily Show last week? I don't remember him taking too many shots to the head when he played, but that guy seemed a little loopy to me.

posted by psmealey at 10:24 PM on January 22

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