Dave Pear on the NFL’s Indifference to Former Players

Awhile ago I mentioned I had stopped watching the NFL because of the league’s indifference and denial of the very real neurological and other problems caused by participating in professional football. Sports Illustrated’s Jeff Perlman ran a profile of former NFL defensive lineman Dave Pear who is quite blunt about how he views his playing experience now,

I wish I never played football. I wish that more than anything. Every single day, I want to take back those years of my life . . .

Pear was a Pro Bowl defensive lineman for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and then won a Super Bowl with the Oakland Raiders in 1981. After 5 years of playing, however, he was out of the league and starting on a lifetime of surgeries and pain. He tells Pearlman he spent his final two seasons at Oakland in constant pain which the team encouraged him to simply play through,

Those last two years in Oakland were very, very difficult times. I was in pain 24 hours per day, and my employers failed to acknowledge my injury. Sure, I won a Super Bowl ring. But was it worth giving up my health for a piece of jewelry? No way. Those diamonds have lost their luster.

Pear has a fascinating blog where he discusses the league’s idiocy and various attempts by retired players to try to get the NFL to own up to its responsibilities.

Why I Stopped Watching the NFL

After reading this New York Times story, I stopped watching National Football League games.

The gist of the story is that for years the National Football League has ridiculed studies done by outside researchers trying to determine what, if any, affect playing in the NFL has on cognitive behavior. Do all those hits and concussions lead to Alzheimer’s-like diseases and other mental problems for players?

At least one survey of retired NFL players conducted by the University of North Carolina’s Center for the Study of Retired Athletes found a correlation between playing in the NFL and a number of cognitive impairments. Not to worry, though, as an NFL official helpfully dismissed the study as “virtually worthless.”

So the NFL commissioned its own studies, including a recently completed survey of retired NFL Players. That study found NFL players were much more likely than men who didn’t play in the NFL to suffer from Alzheimer’s disease or similar problems.

The NFL’s response? Mostly to highlight the shortcomings of the study. And make no mistake, this survey is not perfect. For example, the survey asked players whether or not they had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or a similar memory problem, but it didn’t directly diagnose them — some of the players could be mistaken. Of course NFL players were asked the same questions that the National Health Interview Survey asks of the general public which was used as the baseline rate of incidence to compare the NFL rate to.

Similarly, it could be that the correlation is not due to dangers on the field, but rather the access that elite athletes have to health care off the field: former NFL athletes might be diagnosed with dementia at a higher rate because they have access to better medical care and their physicians are more likely to look for dementia given the violent nature of the sport.

Certainly this study calls for more rigorous follow-ups. But in general the comments of the NFL spokesmen and their hired guns make it clear that the NFL doesn’t really want to know whether or not playing football causes cognitive problems unless the answer is “no.” The fact that the NFL has only begun looking at the problem in the last few years and then resorted to trashing one of the few completed studies it actually bothered to fund, suggests a business that genuinely sees its employees as disposable cogs.

I’m not saying you should stop watching the NFL, just that I can’t stomach the spectacle anymore given the league’s obvious indifference to the legitimate health concerns of its players. That’s far more offensive television than Janet Jackson’s exposed nipple.

NFL’s Newfound Zero Tolerance Policy Against Violence

Two Carolina Panthers cheerleaders were allegedly engaging in sexual activity in a bar restroom, and the duo reportedly then started a brawl when patrons complained and police were called. The cheerleaders were, of course, promptly fired by the Carolina Panthers.

This is, of course, completely consistent with the Carolina Panthers longstanding policy of firing any of its employees who are arrested on suspicion of committing violent crimes. For example, when Panthers player Rae Carruth was arrested on suspicion of planning the murder of his pregnant girlfriend, the Panthers promptly . . . suspended him without pay. They did not bother to fire Carruth until he jumped bail a few weeks later.

Presumably if he’d been caught having sex in the bathroom of a bar after the murder, they might have considered firing him outright. But what’s a little murder when you’re talking about a first round draft pick?

This sort of treatment is typical of the NFL’s when its employees have been arrested in violent incidents. In September, for example, Kansas City Chiefs running back Larry Johnson was arrested at a Kansas City bar after he allegedly assaulted his girlfriend. The Chiefs quickly enforced the NFL’s well-known zero tolerance policy toward Johnson — coach Dick Vermeil told the media that the arrest would not affect Johnson’s status with the team.

Moral of the story — if you want to assault people and avoid being fired by an NFL team, make sure you can score on the field as well as in restrooms.


Carolina Panthers Cheerleaders Fired, Approached by Penthouse.

Panther back office testifies for Carruth. CourtTV.Com, December 14, 2000.

Chiefs RB faces assault charge. St. Petersburg Times, September 14, 2005.

Barry Sanders Inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame

About a year or two before he suddenly retired, I took the next door neighbor to a Detroit Lions game. I don’t remember much about the game or even whom the opponent was. The only part I remember is Barry Sanders taking a hand-off, making one of his mind-boggling jukes, and then like the Flash in an ugly blue and silver costume, he’s suddenly at the other end of the field carrying the ball into the end zone.

Oh there’s one other thing I remember — like too many of Sanders’ games, this one was a loss that came after the Lions had already been eliminated from any possibility of the playoffs.

Some NFL teams have a knack for taking second-rates back and turning them into stars and their teams into champions. Sanders had the misfortune to play for a team and a number of coaches who excelled at taking one of the best NFL running back ever and turning out consistently bad teams. There were a number of years where Sanders won the league rushing title, but the Lions failed to make the playoffs. Pathetic.

Even when they made the playoffs or even the NFC championship in 1991, they were clearly outmatched and outgunned (that they made the playoffs several years in the 1990s had more to do with the low quality of the NFC those years rather than any genius moves by the team).

Personally, I always felt a bit sorry for Sanders. He was the right back at the right time — with the wrong team. Which is why I don’t blame Eli Manning for not wanting to play for the Detroit Lions West (also known as San Diego). It’s one thing to play for a losing team. It’s another thing ot play for an organization that doesn’t know how to do anything but lose.