At least we haven't heard about any more dog fighting. Yet this has been a typically tawdry off-season for the National Football League.
From Sypgate to the usual spate of arrests and suspensions -- not to mention Brett Favre keeping the state of Wisconsin up half the night every night in August -- the NFL has taken its hits in the public eye.
But for me, all of that garbage pales in comparison to the deplorable lack of responsibility the league and its player's union has shown toward the health problems borne by the players who filled their bank accounts. You're upset with stories of animal cruelty? What about the willful neglect of silent, suffering men whose scrambled brains have turned against them? Andre Waters killed himself. Mike Webster died young and destitute -- his family battling the NFL for years all the way to the Supreme Court only to win the hundreds of thousands of dollars owed to their father long after his sad, sad death. Where are the arrest warrants for that?
Aren't you outraged to hear that NFL players in their early forties have been forced to sue their union so they can get the basic medical assistance they need to walk to the bathroom? Men not even in their thirties are afflicted with dementia and the onset of Alzheimer's so premature it's like out of a science fiction movie. Team doctors offer medical mumbo-jumbo testimony while former players live disabled with traumatic and sometimes lethal effects of post-concussion syndrome. Oh yeah, and there was NFLPA head Gene Upshaw, who threatened to break the neck of Hall of Famer Joe DeLamielleure who, along with other notable NFL greats, have dared question the union's lack of care for its own. Nice work, Gene.
I felt no joy in hearing of Upshaw's passing late last month. However, I shared the mixed emotions of many other former NFL players including Hall of Famer Sam Huff, who struggled to find the appropriate sentiment:
"In the end, Gene Upshaw did not take care of the guys who made the NFL what it is today. I feel sorry for his family. You want to be sympathetic but it is hard to do"
Former Cowboy wide receiver Peter Gent laid it all out there in his semi-autobiographical 1973 novel, North Dallas Forty. The great line in the book comes from a lineman who, egged on by a sadistic coach, cries out "Every time we call it game, you call it a business. Every time we call it a business, you call it a game." There's no doubt the NFL is a business. What they've allowed to happen to their players stands as a gross corporate malfeasance.
Like no other professional sport, NFL players are expendable. Their contracts are not guaranteed, like other sports. They average shorter careers than athletes in the other sports by more than half. The fans don't miss them when they're gone. One goes down, another takes his place. We'll go to the games no matter who's playing. Giants games, Cowboys games and Steelers games will sell out no matter who is uniform on Sunday. Why should the NFL care if we don't?
You may not want to think about all this when you're watching the Week 1 of the 89th season of the National Football League this weekend. But you should know that somewhere right now there's an ex-NFL player you once rooted for, whose wife helps him put his socks on in the morning, cuts his meat in little pieces at lunchtime and worries at night how she'll stretch his meager pension to pay the doctor and heating bill; because that poor bastard can barely think at all anymore.