Everyone is buzzing with excitement in anticipation of the Super Bowl. The NFL season culminates into a big show of brawn, speed and tactics. In this game, someone will make a big play and someone will get hurt. Some will become heroes, and some will get carried off the field. Even if the heroes are still standing on their own two feet by the end of the game, most will eventually leave the NFL with enough physical injuries to have chronic pain and disability for the remainder of their lives. In fact, a recent study performed by the University of North Carolina concluded that retired NFL players under the age of 60 are three times more likely to have a painful, arthritic joint than the average male. This means that NFL players are very likely to have early-onset, premature arthritis compared to those who just watch the Super Bowl. In this survey of over 2500 retired NFL players, 52% of them had painful knees and that just accounting for one joint. Whether it is the knees, hips, or the spine, the entire body takes a beating to reach the final destination - the Super Bowl.
Looking at some of the heroes from Super Bowls past is an eye-opening revelation into the world of paying for that past. Some have readily recognizable names like Joe Montana. Others have obscure names like Willie Wood and Joe Jacoby. All three of these men are former Super Bowl heroes who are now paying the price for playing the bone-crushing, ligament tearing, head smashing game of football. Joe Montana's knee and neck pain limits his ability to play with his sons. Joe Jacoby told Sports Illustrated that he finds it too painful to put on socks. And Willie Wood, from his room in a nursing home, told USA Today: "If I never played football, I'd be walking right now." Many former players admit to knowing the risks, but not many of them realized that pain can become so severe and debilitating.
When these battered gladiators retire, besides facing severe pain, many also face numerous surgeries and very little compensation. Unable to work, some of those with the obscure names are confronted with homelessness. Many become just another nameless face in our society, a society that once pushed them to abuse their bodies beyond repair. Lately, the NFL Players Association has been in the spotlight about retired player's benefits, particularly those who are badly damaged. The fact that Major League Baseball's retirees earn three times more compensation than a comparable NFL retiree does not sit well with these debilitated football players. As the injuries become more serious in these modern days of football, the issues of pain, disability and compensation will become more emotional than ever.
But what of the younger players in high school and college that do not make it to the NFL? Who is looking after them? I recently saw a 28 year old man who was a local, high school football star. Now, he suffers from a damaged nerve in his neck caused by an infamous "stinger" and chronic knee pain despite having surgery already. Now working as a bank teller, he can barely get through a full day of standing; but, he endures the pain in order to support his family and earn full health insurance benefits. One day, he hopes to have those benefits so that he can have even more surgeries. There is no player's association looking after him and thousands of other young men who did not make it to the "big show."
So, is this big show, the Super Bowl, worth all this pain? Or should we, as a society, step back and say, "Hey, you know big guy, we value you as a human being who should not be putting your body through this much brutality". Until we discarded our lust for violent sports, many gladiators young and old, now and in the future will be subjected to a life full of super-sized pain.
Published On: February 05, 2010