The League

Mark Maske
Staff Writer

Mark Maske

Writes the NFL News Feed blog

Their Own Worst Enemies


If you've ever been in a setting with aging former NFL players, you know what sort of toll the sport takes on a body. It's significant.

Part of the reason is the inherent nature of the sport. Bodies are thrown around on the field. There are violent collisions. I like to say that, for a player, the toll that's taken on the body probably is a little bit like being in a minor car crash on a weekly basis. If you don't believe me, hang out sometime at an NFL team's training facility the day after a game.

The other part of it is the culture within the sport of playing hurt. It's expected. It's a macho sport. Those players who won't play with pain probably won't last very long in the league. The general principle for a player, it seems, is that you're supposed to play hurt; you're not supposed to play injured. In other words, you're supposed to tolerate pain to play, but you're not supposed to risk doing further damage to your body. But that line can be blurry, and many players cross it.

The pressure to play when one probably shouldn't do so doesn't necessarily come from a coach or a team's higher-ups or teammates. It's often the pressure that a player puts on himself. He doesn't want to miss a game and give someone else a chance to take his job. But I often wonder if former players wake up 20 years later and say things like, "I wish I hadn't played that one time with that one injury, and I'd feel a whole lot better today."

The problem is, I don't know that there's that much that can be done about it at a league or even team level. You can try to protect players from other players, from coaches and from other outside forces. It's very, very difficult to try to protect them from themselves, however. Clearly there are cases, as with concussions, when teams' medical staffs must stop players from playing. But this discussion is more about the borderline cases. If a player wants to play and can find a way to play, he probably will play. If you try to stop that, you risk having players become increasingly wary of reporting injuries, even to their own teams' trainers and doctors. That would be even worse. Pretty much all you can do is try to educate players that there can be longterm health ramifications for the decisions that they make, and advise them when choosing not to play is probably the best decision.

By Mark Maske  |  October 29, 2008; 1:37 PM ET  | Category:  NFL Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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