Of the many athletic accomplishments in my life, and a pending ESPN documentary tentatively titled “Wonderbread” will detail them for history’s sake, I might be most proud of my winter 1982 feat.
In mid-December 1982, on break from school in SoCal, I flew to Tampa Bay to visit my parents who had recently moved there.
When I arrived on December 19th, my dad informed me he and I were going to that afternoon’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers NFL game against the Buffalo Bills, a 24-23 win for the home team which is now trending for some reason(s).
A week later, pops came through again with tickets to the Lions game, a 23-21 win. And a week later, a day before my return to the Left Coast, the ticket trifecta, a 26-23 OT win over da’ Bears.
1982 was a strike shortened season, 9 total games, 5 home, 4 away. I was in town for 15 days and saw over half the Buc’s home games.
Pick your parents well.
The 29 year old Indianapolis Colts quarterback making $35m/year suddenly retired Saturday. Everyone is shocked, including me, but for a different reason than most.
Over his injury riddled career, the Stanford grad made $100m on the field and lots more off of it. If Luck earns 4% on 150m he’ll have $6m a year to decide how to spend the rest of his life. He should be okay especially since he’s said he is going to make Indianapolis home.
What’s most shocking about his retirement is that it’s not more common. I don’t understand why more elite players who have made $10m+ don’t quit before their brains and bodies begin breaking down.
Scientists know football players are at risk from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a neurodegenerative disease caused by repeated head injuries. These are 25 year olds who have another 50-75 to go. Professional football players keep getting larger and faster. Playing professional football is often compared to getting in a car crash every Sunday.
The Colts owner says Luck is passing up $450m in future salary. So what. What is the value of one’s brain and body?
How much money is enough, $150 million no doubt, but why not $5m? Spend and invest smartly and watch it grow over time. Why aren’t many more players heading for the exits. Why isn’t Chris Borland the model?
Early during Sunday’s training ride, six cycling friends and I buzzed Tumwater High School. Cars lined both sides of the street for half a mile. Pop Warner junior football is alive and well in Tumwater, WA. Which I find perplexing.
It makes perfect sense that parents want their children to play sports, but why choose the one where one’s health is most likely to be compromised. Tradition?
Why choose football when there are innumerable safer options? Case in point. You may have missed it, but Sunday in Atlanta Rory McIlroy made $15m by winning professional golf’s final playoff tournament. Hitting a golf ball, not being hit. Don’t expect him to retire anytime soon.
“Washington Redskins running back Adrian Peterson was “trusting the wrong people,” his attorney said, and is deep in debt after making nearly $100 million during his NFL career.”
During last year’s Super Bowl, the Good Wife and I had friends over for dinner. An enjoyable, television-free evening, one guest peaked at her phone late in the game. Despite learning a historic comeback/collapse was underway, we still weren’t motivated enough to turn on the game. I didn’t see a single play.
It helped that I didn’t care about either team, but like a lot of people apparently, I’m watching far, far less football than in years past. Of course, I’m still weaning myself from UCLA football. That’s been made easier by my team’s apparent decision to quit tackling, which looking at the data, makes sense.
Before you watch this year’s game, read “I’m the Wife of a Former NFL Player. Football Destroyed His Mind,” by Emily Kelly. About her husband, Rob.
“Over time, I had started to notice changes. But this was different. And things became increasingly frightening.
He lost weight. It seemed like one day, out of the blue, he stopped being hungry. And often he would forget to eat. I’d find full bowls of cereal forgotten around the house, on bookshelves or the fireplace mantel. The more friends and family commented on his gaunt frame, the more panicked I became. By 2016, he had shrunk to 157 pounds. That’s right, my 6-foot-2 football-player husband weighed 157 pounds (down from around 200 when he was in the N.F.L.). People were visibly shocked when we told them he had played the game professionally.
Besides damage resulting from football-related concussions, my husband has never had a diagnosed brain injury. He’s never been in a car accident or fallen off a roof. He never did steroids and, after struggling with alcohol abuse for about six years, off and on, after retirement, hasn’t had a drink in eight years. And he’s only 43.”
“He went from being a devoted and loving father and husband to someone who felt like a ghost in our home. For a couple of months one winter he was so depressed and detached, he couldn’t muster up the energy to speak. My questions went unanswered until I simply stopped asking them. The silence was unnerving.”
“After years of little to no sleep, he alternated between sleeping either three hours a night or 20. I’d wake up to find every blind and curtain in the house closed and Rob sitting on the sofa with a blank expression on his face. He no longer felt comfortable driving, refused to leave the house and cut off contact with everyone.
Specific details about how he wanted his funeral to be, and his demand that he be cremated, were brought up with excruciating frequency. One particularly dark time, he went five days without eating anything; he drank only water and a few swigs of chocolate milk. He was suffering deeply and barely surviving. My love and affection seemed to offer no comfort or solace. I felt helpless.”
Winter has taken a toll. This Sunday evening, I think it’s high time to squeegee and sweep the garage floor.
Princeton’s freshman quarterback, the 193rd ranked recruit in the country, Brevin White.
When asked why he passed on scholarship offers to Power 5 schools, including Arizona State, Oregon State, Tennessee and Utah, he said, “I want to have a roommate that’s smarter than me.”
The WSJ tells White’s story here. In short, he wants a career in the NFL and on Wall Street. He’s watched an increasing number of Ivy players find their way to the NFL and is confident he can do it too.
What a great quote. The irony is, by saying he wants a roommate that’s smarter than him, he’s instantly the smartest guy in the dorm and locker room.
My dad always told me to get better at tennis, hit with people better than you. The same principle, surround yourself by people more knowledgeable and/or skilled, applies to any context in which a person is striving for self-improvement.
To what degree are you surrounded by smarter, more skilled people?
Like my dermatologists are so fond of doing to my basal cell skin cancers, I’d like to cut football out of my life. Literally throw a switch and not follow it anymore, high school, college, pro.
Now that we know about CTE’s devastating effects on players, it feels too much like watching Christians and lions in an ancient Roman Coliseum. Except in this case, both sides lose.
The title of this post is too optimistic. I’m not sure I can throw the “no football” switch. “I Want To Quit Football” would’ve been too wordy. I grew up playing football so I’m talking about severing a childhood root. And I enjoy following sports more generally and it’s impossible to watch SportsCenter or listen to Dan Patrick without half of the content, half of the year, being football-related.
In 2016, in the Pacific Northwest, you can be disappeared for not being a “12”, the name given to Seattle Seahawk fanatics. Lots of (oddly elderly) people have taken to wearing Russell Wilson jerseys to church in an apparent effort to curry God’s favor. To my Canadian friends to the north, imagine how ostracized you’d be if you gave up hockey.
I didn’t care about either team, but still watched about 50 minutes of the SupBowl, 20 live and 30 at enhanced Tivo-speeds. Besides the brain injuries, I can’t take the pace of play with the incessant challenges, television timeouts, injury time, and commercials. Hey Roger, I have a dog that needs walking, a work project that I’m behind on, a house that needs packing up. Here’s an idea that only someone suffering from CTE might propose, let’s take 10 minutes from the billion viewers to determine if the receiver had possession. That’s a well spent 10 billion minutes.
There were no concussions at halftime despite an angry dance-off between Bruno’s boys and Bey’s girls. They can dance some, but if they ever play one-on-one basketball, I’m going with the Queen. She can just back him down. And of course it’s the one time of year that the commercials are actually worth watching. I’m going to buy a jeep and then the GalPal is going to throw herself on me. Or I’m asking for my money back.
That pgraph right there highlights the challenge. You can’t be culturally literate without knowing somethin’ somethin’ about football. If I somehow find it within myself to stop watching, I’ll continue to see headlines and read boxscores. Will even that make me complicit in the violence?
I’m confident I can go about eight months without watching a single snap. Here’s hoping even longer.
Maybe it’s because the teams they’ve played have a combined record of 19-3.
Or maybe it’s because the offensive line is making minimum wage.
Or because the receivers can’t get any separation.
Or because Marshawn Lynch’s mom has put a curse on the O Coordinator.
Or because the Legion of Doom suddenly can’t stop anybody down the stretch.
Or maybe the Seahawks mediocre record is the result of key defensive players—Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas in particular—getting PAID.
Sherman and Thomas grew up with little and are highly intelligent. Now they’re making tens of million a year, meaning their portfolios are probably generating more passive income than they earned on their rookie contracts. Even if they have a career ending injury tonight (when they get to 3-4), their families are independently wealthy.
Both spent the off-season rehabbing serious injuries and earned their eight figure contracts by sacrificing their bodies for the good of the team. Also, and here’s the key to my hypothesis, Sherman is a Stanford graduate meaning he has to be reading all of the incredibly depressing CTE literature being produced by medical docs studying retired players’ brains.
So two years ago, knowing the NFL stands for “Not For Long”, they were making 5-10% of what they’re making now and had never been to a Superbowl. They were motivated, they were physical, they were focused.
Now, they’re watching their wealth surge every thirty days regardless of what the stock market does, they’ve been to the Superbowl twice, have one ring to show their grandchildren, and they’re learning more all the time about the long-term damage they’re likely doing to their brains. If Thomas and Sherman are not playing quite like their families futures depend upon it, it’s because their families aren’t anymore. If they’re not playing every game like it’s the most important thing in the world, it’s because it isn’t anymore. It makes perfect sense if they’re wondering if sacrificing their long-term health still makes as much sense, because it doesn’t.
The cult-like 12’s only think about what it would be like to make Thomas and Sherman money. They’re not reading the scientific studies that detail the brutal costs of Not For Long glory. I don’t blame Thomas, Sherman, or anyone else in the Seahawk backfield for having lost their edge. If one or more of them are having an existential crisis that’s affecting their play, it’s perfectly rational.
Power to anyone, who with microphones in their face, opts not to speak. I’m glad Marshawn Lynch refuses to speak to the media. The league is stupid for fining him. They argue players as employees have to promote the league, that ultimately, it’s in their best interest. On the surface that’s logical, but when they insist that every employee has to promote the league by speaking to the media it’s a pointless exhibition of power. The majority of athletes will always be happy to talk to the press, freeing up outliers like Lynch not to.
No one wants to listen to athletes that are coerced to talk because you can’t force anyone to say anything remotely authentic or interesting. I wish Tiger Woods would stop talking to the press starting today. Listening to him is painful because you can see him thinking “What do they want me to say?” Let’s try an experiment. Let’s let Tiger know it’s okay not to speak and then see if he chooses to say something semi-interesting five or ten years from now.
Switching gears, I’ll never understand why the family and friends of victims of horrific crimes agree to speak immediately after losing a loved one. Take last week’s tragic shooting of the on-air newsperson and her cameraman. That same night on CNN I saw her dad and fiancee talking to the press. Why? The public has no real need or right to know how they feel at that moment. I don’t begrudge the press for asking the questions, but I wish more people would decline the invitation to speak.
I pray I’m never in any situation remotely like the father and fiancee were last week, but if I get called up by the Seahawks to fill in for Kam Chancellor and become the oldest player in the league to return a pick for a touchdown, don’t be upset if I make like Marshawn Lynch afterwards and say “No comment.” Don’t sweat it though, I’ll probably blog about it.
Last week I watched Public Television’s Frontline documentary based upon the recently released book “League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions, and The Battle for Truth.”
Because ignorance truly is bliss, the vast majority of football fans will pass on the book and film. And you can be damn sure the NFL suits are working overtime to pressure ESPN and other media outlets to suppress the book’s findings. In this drama, the NFL is Big Tobacco in the 1980s. The book was a story immediately after its release, but since then it’s been the proverbial tree in the forest.
Despite knowing much more about the detrimental long term effects of playing football, I still watched a lot of it last week—a little Washington v Oregon, UCLA v Cal, and Seattle v Tennessee. Yes, I’m part of the problem.
Not that anyone should generalize from me, but I think I could kick my forty-five year old football playing and viewing habit if there were substitutes on television on fall weekends. I haven’t learned to eat lunch on Saturdays without some sporting event on television. We used to get a cable station, Universal Sports, that was made for me. It broadcast major marathons, triathlons, and related endurance events around the world.
If the Chicago Marathon and Ironman Hawaii World Championship were on television last weekend, I would have happily watched them instead of my beloved Bruins (especially since they were taking it to the Golden Bears). At first glance, those appear to be poor substitutes because there’s zero physical contact, but upon closer review, they’re excellent ones because they’re physically demanding in their own way, often equally dramatic, and in the end, tremendously compelling.
When I watch cyclists attack in the Alps during the Tour de France, and then the chaos of the shattered peloton, I get just as excited as when a hard hitting safety lights up an unsuspecting receiver on a crossing route. I get similarly fired up when watching a sprint at the end of a long distance run or open water swim. Last summer, after watching a stage of the Tour marked by a steady stream of attacks and counter-attacks, I told the Good Wife, “It was like watching a heavyweight fight.”
Speaking of which, it’s been decades since I watched a professional fight. Truth be told, I think boxing is barbaric and have zero interest in it. Don’t tell my 20-something male students, but I’m even more repulsed by mixed martial arts.
I won’t be surprised if some fall day in the not too distant future I find other things to care about besides whether UCLA beats Stanford and wins the Pac-12 South. And if I end up thinking about football the way I think about boxing and mixed martial arts.
[Postscript—Here’s a really excellent discussion/debate about the substance of the book and film.]