Two days before the Super Bowl, two interesting perspectives on the National Football League and how it treats its players. First, the New York Times has an article on the plight of former New England Patriots player Ted Johnson. Johnson claims he was ordered to participate in full-contact drills while he was recovering from a concussion. The resulting injury — yet another concussion — led Johnson to seek desperate measures in order to continue to play. Just before the 2004 Super Bowl friend began supplying him with amphetamines, which temporarily masked the effects of the repeated concussions he was suffering from:
After playing only sparingly in that Super Bowl, Mr. Johnson began taking larger and larger doses before and throughout the 2004 season, when he regained his starting position at middle linebacker and helped the Patriots win their second consecutive Super Bowl.
Eventually even the drugs didn’t help, and Johnson was forced to retire — but his addiction to amphetamines remained. Career-ending injuries and drug abuse aren’t the exclusive province of the NFL, but the Times article does question whether the NFL’s “tough guy” attitude might have contributed to Johnson’s injuries and later problems. The coach and training staff’s decision to rush Johnson back on the field despite his previous concussion was described by Johnson this way:
“I’m sitting there going, ‘God, do I put this thing on?’ ” Mr. Johnson said. “I put the blue on. I was scared for my job.”
Regarding the intimidation he felt at that moment, Mr. Johnson added, “This kind of thing happens all the time in football. That day it was Bill Belichick and Ted Johnson. But it happens all the time.”
Doctors are well aware that repeated concussions, particularly in a short time frame, can be especially dangerous — and the NFL has some of the best doctors in the nation on its payroll.
For another view on how the NFL treats its players, consider this, from today’s Charlotte Observer:
“For guys who made this league, who built it on their backs, their knees and their legs, and now they’re all broken down and they can’t even get a decent pension,” said DeLamielleure, the former Bills and Browns guard. “It’s wrong. It’s dead wrong.”
Many retired NFL players can barely afford medical care, and yet they are largely ignored by the league.
Arguably, digging deep into the labor practices of nearly any industry will uncover similar abuses, from diamond miners in South Africa to factory workers in China. But it is chilling to realize that within as little as a decade after they retire, the players children idolize in this Sunday’s game may be suffering from Alzheimer’s disease or other debilitating impairments as a result of the injuries they sustain on the field.
Jonah Lehrer has more on the Ted Johnson story.
Note: Sorry, no Casual Friday this week. It should be back next week.