FanDuel - WFBC

November 16, 2007

Casualties of the NFL:: The fits, when they come, turn him as white as the walls and send unself-conscious tears down his cheeks. It's DeMarco at 35: dirt-poor, broken, and in a headfirst spiral, taking his wife and children down with him. .... "There was no food in the house, and I mean none -- not a box of mac and cheese or a can of tuna ..... Brian and Autumn hadn't eaten in a couple of days and between them had 75 cents. Total." A harrowing account of post-NFL experiences.

posted by rumple to football at 08:53 PM - 39 comments

If Gene Upshaw can live with himself while these men suffer this demeaning existence I've lost all respect for him as a footbal player and as a human being. The owner should step in do what's necessary to make them comfortable for the remainer of their lives.

posted by Janowitz at 10:13 PM on November 16

I hope everyone remembers things like this when they complain about NFL players holding out for bigger contracts. You get as much as you can as soon as you can, because nobody is going to be there to give you the money later in life when you really need it.

posted by grum@work at 10:20 PM on November 16

I feel empathy for these men. I was injured in high school and they did the same thing to me - needles. It is sad, but it is a part of the fabric of society and accepted part of the game. I have now had four back surgeries and five fused vertebrae. Nerve damage (RSD) and a hip that pops out of place every time I move the wrong way. What a life!!! Between the pills and the doctors, I see why so many give up the fight. I feel for them in that most of the time when the lights go away and there is no castle to live in anymore, they tend to (spouses) fall prey to the "Caregiver Syndrome" and then the ex-player is left to fight the battles alone. My prayers are with him and his family. For a business that can pay rookies 60+ million over 6 years to start with, they should and need to take better care of the people that are left along the winding road to the Hall of Fame. These guys pay the ultimate price and are discarted like garbage. What a shame.

posted by Mickster at 12:30 AM on November 17

I couldn't finish this. It was too revolting. Every one of the team doctors that passes players to play with serious injuries should be disbarred. Were I in a country where grid iron was a big draw, my kids wouldn't be playing it. Not for a single day. Not when that's where it ends.

posted by rodgerd at 01:01 AM on November 17

Vile.

posted by tommytrump at 01:10 AM on November 17

I have to qualify that I've yet to read the post, but regardless ... I just finished Meggeyesy's _A League of Their Own_, as well as Prior's _ Slave Side of Sunday_, and a 1971 CFL classic _The Plastic Orgasm_ by Laverne Barnes. Nobody is telling us anything different. Football is a mutherfu%#&r of a sport. Takes it ALL, and rarely gives enough back. Yet, we LOVE it deeply!?!? The time is upon us when a new sport ethics is required. One with even a little room to be "real" human beings would be preferred, no? 'kay ... now to read the post.

posted by Spitztengle at 01:40 AM on November 17

I hope Gene Upshaw rots in hell.

posted by PAPhinFan at 01:41 AM on November 17

Solotaroff writes mainly of past greats, but what about the many lesser knowns who labored ungloriously and ended up in the same fix. Upshaw stinks with his crappy attitude. The smart players who got out before bodies and/or brains were scrambled......Emmit Smith and Barry Sanders come to mind ....got their share of criticism for "quitting", but more power to them. Sad sad story; another black eye for sports...... and Uphaw should be gelded without anesthetic.....oh maybe a little shot of Lidocaine

posted by jazzdog at 02:22 AM on November 17

That's disgusting to read. I was reminded that there's a similar anomaly in the NBA, where players before the 1965 agreement get stiffed on retirement benefits. But the sheer physicality of the NFL means the provision for disability ought to be first, second and third concern for retired players. So, what are current players doing about it? Accepting the word of Upshaw that if they look after the players who made it possible for them to earn the salaries they get now, they'll be stiffed in turn? I think we already know the answer: the active players are mostly torn between the desire to live the high life and the realisation that the money they earn now, for the vast majority of players, is going to have to last through the rest of their lives. And the coaches who presided over a culture that crippled past players are still in the game today. I'll make one more point: have you ever heard a network announcer for a NFL game say, of an injured player, 'he shouldn't be on the field'? It occurred to me that I haven't, though admittedly I haven't been watching or listening to games as long as most here. There's an understandable clichéd narrative of celebrating the 'wounded warrior' who keeps playing, but I've definitely watched and listened to soccer commentaries where the broadcasters have railed against a manager for not making a substitution.

posted by etagloh at 02:32 AM on November 17

There are several problems here: 1) American football is just too physical for the human body. The practice of leading with the head must end. Helmet technology has progressed to the point where players feel invunerable. Tackling should follow rugby rules. The violence is part of the sport, and I wouldn't want to see it removed, but rule changes are urgently required. A high tackle in rugby league, for instance, is not only a sending-off, but likely a ban of several weeks. 2) Coaches and team doctors should be legally liable for sending injured players back onto the field. I think you make a good point, etagloh, about the commentators never saying a player should not be out there. There's a culture of misplaced machismo, shared by the supporters, players, coaches and officials. 3) Gene Upshaw is scum. Why is he still in a job? Why has nobody stepped forward to challenge him? Why do the current players put up with this situation. It's hard watching the game sometimes, when you think about what these guys are doing to their bodies for our entertainment. Rugby union is going the same way - I hope it never gets to the same point.

posted by salmacis at 05:17 AM on November 17

Kudos to rumple for the story. A poignant story about "real" men, not because they played football. These men put up with more pain than the average person will ever know, yet live with more dignity and humility than anyone could! What I don't understand is why can't Gene Upshaw be forced out of office? Surely someone could do something to undermine this self-loving person (notice that I didn't call him a man!). Why the NFL sticks with someone that is an embarrassment to the league is not comprehensible. My prayer is that these players get the help they need, and hope that the league realizes that they have a serious responsibility to these men!

posted by nflhou02 at 07:34 AM on November 17

I'm welling up ....there are so many sad stories like these in the world, and I'm exposed to them frequently, but it would take some pretty thick skin not to be moved by this article. Just 1/100th of the salaries of todays players would more than take care of all of these guys for the rest of thier tortured lives. It is a sad, sad state of affairs....

posted by Sprdave32 at 08:45 AM on November 17

Ghastly! I'm not sure how much exposure this piece will get, but it can't be enough. Nobody involved in the slightest way with the NFL will touch it. It begs for one or another of the network commentators to bring it to light, but if one of them ever did, he would probably be dragged in mid-sentence from the broadcast booth by Security. I don't really know whose fault this is. Is Gene Upshaw merely the watchdog for the owners' money? From all reports some of the team owners are charitable men who privately take care of their players. Were there medical abuses on years past? Of course there were, but do they persist? How many players, feeling the pressure to continue in a game or fearing for their future as a player went back onto the field? Medical diagnostic tools have improved by leaps and bounds in the past 2 decades alone, but are they being used correctly? One can only hope that coaches, trainers, owners, and above all today's players have learned something from the past and will be more cautious about playing hurt.

posted by Howard_T at 09:03 AM on November 17

he would probably be dragged in mid-sentence from the broadcast booth by Security Agreed. At least Ditka is doing something about it, but I'm sure the networks would have a shit fit if a commentator ever brought it up in an unscripted moment. And the new commissioner is too busy being tough on current players to ever suggest money might be spent on retired ones.

posted by yerfatma at 09:58 AM on November 17

Oh my GOD!!!! Upshaw's salary would make a dent with Gridiron Greats. He could afford to donate a year or two. The a**hat. What Upshaw is doing by pitting the younger players against the older ones is the same principle being used to scare people into overhauling social security. Except in football's case, its an outrageous falsehood. Upshaw should be ashamed!

posted by yzelda4045 at 10:02 AM on November 17

It's all a product of players wanting to get everything they can for themselves now, while they're playing, and refusing to pay any attention to the plight of former players. And by former players, I'm mainly referring to the ones who never really made it big, but were forced to leave the game as virtual unknowns (with no source of income, pension, etc.). Eventually, all current players are going to have to insist on starting a viable fund to help account for this problem. Gene Upshaw may be a dick, but the players themselves need to act on this and, in turn, force Upshaw to deal with it. If the vast, vast majority of players (and former players) choose to turn a blind-eye to this horrific problem, then why should all of us be the only ones so outraged? Football is a violent sport, but that's a big part of it's popularity. It's really no different than the competition in "Gladiator" days. It also makes me appreciate former football players such as Robert Smith, who came out of Ohio State as a gifted runner, but chose to follow different career paths. He worked hard, was intelligent, received his degree, and had the guts to turn his back on a NFL career, saving his body, and living a somewhat more "normal" life.

posted by dyams at 10:36 AM on November 17

Upshaw should just take his retirement and step down so someone else can take over and help these guys. As a fan of the NFL I'm going to do my part and look at the online auction mentioned in the article and buy something so in my own small way I can help.

posted by jrsrigmvr at 10:38 AM on November 17

It's all a product of players wanting to get everything they can for themselves now, while they're playing, I don't disagree with your point, but how can you blame players for doing so, given what they can see in front of them?

posted by yerfatma at 11:34 AM on November 17

he would probably be dragged in mid-sentence from the broadcast booth by Security I wonder if Keith Olbermann would have the jewels necessary to reference this on his weekly 'Worst Person in the NFL' spot during halftime of the Sunday Night game... Judging from his previous rants, he seems the only one who would dare stray from parroting the company line and publicize this to a wide television audience... And to think, I was SURE no one in the NFL could disgust me more than Michael Vick... Congrats to Gene Upshaw on that one...

posted by don-peyote at 11:40 AM on November 17

I don't disagree with your point, but how can you blame players for doing so, given what they can see in front of them? It's kind of like the old saying, "There but for the grace of God goes I." In the blink of an eye, the next story about some tragic case could be about them, or the person/friend next to them on the line. It just seems every contract should have a certain percentage put into a fund for players in need, like the ones Ditka and Kramer are trying to help. The organization should then have to match those players' contributions. It wouldn't take too long for such a fund to build up a significant balance. If the players don't want to make it a priority, seeing as how they may be the ones in need, and instead continue to wear blinders and think only about themselves, then our outrage and pity is basically a waste.

posted by dyams at 12:16 PM on November 17

how can you blame players for doing so, given what they can see in front of them? Because there are players who have the star power to change the dynamic. What if Peyton Manning devoted some of his commercial-filming spare time to the cause? The ownership or the league or the union can't easily sanction him. If the union's dysfunctional, then you either replace the leadership or you organise another union. Picking up on dyams' point, the star (or even the team player) with the gruesome career-ending injury will generally stay in the headlines and be looked after. The players who suffer week-to-week attrition that eventually leads to an off-season exit or a departure on waivers generally don't merit more than a few rounds on the ESPN ticker.

posted by etagloh at 02:38 PM on November 17

It's kind of like the old saying, "There but for the grace of God goes I." In the blink of an eye, the next story about some tragic case could be about them, or the person/friend next to them on the line. I think yzelda called it right: the current players are being played off against the retirees. It's a dynamic that has been used successfully in so many contexts, and it succeeds because people either can't make that "there but for the grace of God go I" connection you speak of, or can't make the conclusion "...and if I ever do, I will want others to help me out" and act accordingly.

posted by lil_brown_bat at 02:52 PM on November 17

The corrupt former head of the NHLPA Allan Eagleson was brought down over pension fraud by former star players, including Carl Brewer, Gordie Howe and Bobby Hull (link). So there might be hope in the NFL if a few others would join Ditka - Joe Montana, say, or some other icon of the game. And seconding that the current players have a responsibility as well - someone like Brett Favre really has nothing to lose and a lot to gain in terms of putting his blue-collar image to the test. And, with his past health issues off-field, he is a prime candidate to relate to a grunt who succumbs to addiction of some kind. One underlying issue that came out with th Vick case was the lack of guaranteed contracts in the NFL making players much more disposable than other sports, and hence more compliant to unfair working practices. The fan uproar that he should give his signing bonus back without consideration that his contract could have been terminated without cause at any time showed, I think, a fundamental bias against the players. The fact that most players are completely obscured by helmets means we cannot see their pain and empathy is muted, they are like androids. But none of that deflects responsibility from the owners. I know this issue has been posted previously on SpoFi, but personally, as a casual NFL watcher, I have reached the tipping point where the ultraviolence is too much in the context of the disposable human beings performing it. For a miniscule sum relative to income, they could look after all the old players and make like heroes. If they ever wanted to undercut the (emasculated) union, then this is their chance. A push from the fans would help. But I have the impression that an awful lot of football fans love the martial/disciplinary aspects of the game - the drill, the march, the field-general, etc., and see the perfect execution of a "play" as akin to a military manoeuver, successful because of discipline and obedience to command. So I am not holding my breath that the fans will really care enough to deal with it. Congress is taking an interest, and that may help. I'd like to think fans could put pressure into the mix as well. But how?

posted by rumple at 03:07 PM on November 17

This is a good comparison to baseball player pensions & attitudes.

posted by rumple at 03:09 PM on November 17

showed, I think, a fundamental bias against the players. The fact that most players are completely obscured by helmets means we cannot see their pain and empathy is muted, they are like androids. Plus the resentment that's grown with the gap between player salaries and average household income in the US. I'm not saying it's right, just saying it's there. I'm always stunned when someone comes on this site bitching about overpaid players, like it's somehow better when the money goes to a billionaire instead of a millionaire. I suppose they think the billionaire got rich by talent while the athlete got rich by luck, even though the reverse might be just as true.

posted by yerfatma at 03:16 PM on November 17

If I had $2 million I could retire tomorrow and live a middle class life indefinately. Any player in any sport making $10-20 million per year in salary, endorsements, etc. and isn't doing anything for the betterment of mankind is simply put a shitbag. My religous beliefs compel me to try and do the best that I can for others whether it is smile for someone having a bad day, or trying to help a customer balance their checkbook. If a millionare athlete can sleep at night (and I'm sure that there are many who can) knowing that he did the best he could than more power to him. Two little things that I can do today is that I will add the Gridiron Great link to my website in case anyone wants to donate and I will write to my team (Patriots) and ask what they are doing to help. I am just a fan but there is strength in numbers. To whom much is given, much is expected Luke 12:48.

posted by kyrilmitch_76 at 03:30 PM on November 17

Reading about what happens to these players in physical/aging terms after they leave the game, who could accuse the Tiki Barbers, Jake Plummers, et al of being "soft" or "quitters"? Seems like an amazingly smart decision for these guys to retire when they still have their relative health and presumably are set for life financially. It's too bad that the same cannot be said (on both counts) for many of their predecessors.

posted by holden at 03:45 PM on November 17

You can obviously add an awful lot of owners, media moguls, season ticket holders etc. to my earlier comment as well. I don't want it to sound like I am specifically complaining about wealthy players. I am specifically complaining about people in general who sit by while others suffer.

posted by kyrilmitch_76 at 05:05 PM on November 17

Any player in any sport making $10-20 million per year in salary, endorsements, etc. and isn't doing anything for the betterment of mankind is simply put a shitbag. Your religious beliefs are very interesting.

posted by yerfatma at 07:04 PM on November 17

I'm always stunned when someone comes on this site bitching about overpaid players, like it's somehow better when the money goes to a billionaire instead of a millionaire. What was that Chris Rock line? "Shaq is rich. The white man who signs his check... is wealthy." (Not that race is a huge issue here, but race does play a part in the skewed focus on player salaries at the top end.) Ultimately, it's the linemen who have to deal with escalating physical demands, shorter careers and greater risk of incremental disability, while being at the lower end of the wage scale and playing under the pressure of knowing they can be cut so easily from the roster. rumple's right: Favre would be ideal, not least because you just know he's going to be a physical wreck ten years after retiring.

posted by etagloh at 07:06 PM on November 17

Ineffective union representation and free agency opened the door for the parasitic cankers known as sports agents to enter and rape the league. This “show me the money” attitude has debased player loyalty to any one particular team. But what else could players do when the union is in the owners pocket but move around every three of four years? As soon as an injury sidelines a player, besides the team, he becomes a liability to both the agent and the union. I say sports agents need to step-up with the insurance policies during negotiations of players contracts and be forced to take some of the responsibility, as well as broadcast networks and any of the rest that get rich putting saddles on players backs for the ride to the bank. I do believe this can be easily fixed if the exploiters greed was added into equation before the paydays. This shameless apathy really pisses me off, greedy bastards. Let the league migrate to pay per view and see what happens. I know one thing, I will not be buying a thirty dollar cap or180 buck jersey from the NFL. Hell, I’ll go to the flee market and get that swag for 5 and 10 dollars and send the difference to Ditkas bunch. Rookies need to know what they are getting into before any ink is on paper and this article is a good place to start their education.

posted by kosmicdebris at 10:25 PM on November 17

Michael Moore could do an awesome film on this subject - what a sitting duck. Heh. Seriously, I think public shaming of the league would work. It's clear Upshaw doesn't give a shit. But the league might worry about it if public opinion rose a notch, or if advertisers started to ask questions. That, a documentary, and a well-placed shove by prominent players could do it quickly -- there is plenty of money in the system, just a lack of seriousness of concern.

posted by rumple at 12:42 AM on November 18

Ineffective union representation and free agency opened the door for the parasitic cankers known as sports agents to enter and rape the league. This “show me the money” attitude has debased player loyalty to any one particular team. How are agents to blame? Their goal is to maximize their own revenues which, usually, means they have an interest in seeing their clients get as much as they can. Most players aren't attorneys or CPAs, so they're not ready to argue effectively in contract debates.

posted by yerfatma at 08:14 AM on November 18

The NFL is a TREMENDOUS public relations machine. After reading this, the sappy commercials they run during games showing NFL players doing charity work in their communities make me want to puke. In high school I was 6'4", 205 lbs and athletic, a basketball player. You think the football coaches didn't want me? One of them called me a pussy for not playing. I actually wanted to play, although basketball was my first love. My old man prevented me from playing football. For years I resented it. It wasn't until I was in my 40's that I recognized his wisdom, and sent him an article from the San Jose Mercury News. It was a feature on ex-49ers linebacker Gary Plummer, who has had 17 surgeries and sleeps in a recliner in the living room so as not to disturb his wife when he wakes up in pain at night. My Dad knew that the coaches were nothing but young, macho assholes who wanted to use me for their own gain, no different than the NFL does.

posted by robslob at 08:04 AM on November 19

I was one that always felt that when a player left his team that he had played for for a number of years and leave to play for another for more money,I always said "Where's the loyalty of this player to his team ?"But after reading this article,I can see now that they have to make the money while they can because when their playing days are over,Upshaw certainly doesn't give two shits it seems about anybody but himself and his huge salary.Something has got to be done to help these players who put their bodys through the rigors of entertaining the people who watch them play every Sunday.Even if they realize the next play may very well be their last before a catastrophic hit put upon an opposing player or one put on themself may leave them unable to move again.

posted by Ghastly1 at 03:45 PM on November 19

I watched a bit of the Seahawks-Bears game on the weekend and I found it much less enjoyable thinking of each hit as another month of arthritic pain at 45, so to speak. Football really needs to deal with this because when it becomes visceral like that, it really detracts from enjoyment of the sport.

posted by rumple at 09:57 PM on November 19

Lidocaine injections on the sidelines, while players huddle around to shield this from the fans. Yet they ban players from the league for marijuana use?? Tell me WHAT could be more hypocritical than THAT?

posted by robslob at 03:08 AM on November 20

The NFL treats its players like Michael Vick treated his dogs. Football really needs to deal with this because when it becomes visceral like that, it really detracts from enjoyment of the sport. Football can't deal with the issue without putting flags on the hips of its players and banning contact. There's no way to build a sport around the violent collisions of huge athletes without accepting catastrophic and life-long injuries to the performers as the cost of doing business. I enjoy the NFL because I grew to love the sport before I understood the physical toll it exacts on the players. As I did with boxing, I should stop giving it my money and my attention.

posted by rcade at 09:08 AM on November 20

Football can't deal with the issue without putting flags on the hips of its players and banning contact.
Nonsense. Rugby union and league are both contact sports with far more sensible views on handling injuries and on managing contact to redce serious injuries in the first place.

posted by rodgerd at 01:08 PM on November 20

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