Football tragedies are commonplace, and I am guilty of not committing these tragedies to memory. Every weekend I make a point to watch at least a little football. Watching Aaron Rodgers or Melvin Gordon operate week in and week out provides quite the end-cap to the work week; but hearing about another football player who committed suicide can serve to dampen the spirits. This week I read the headline: Ohio State football player found dead. I came across this particular attention grabber on Sunday when I was scanning the headlines for each football game. Initially I was taken aback and kept scrolling. Then I thought about it. Finally, I got angry.
There have been six highly reported suicides by former football players since 2011.
Dave Duerson was 50 years old. Duerson was a safety for 10 years in the NFL before he shot himself in the chest after complaining “of his deteriorating mental state,” during his final months. Duerson left a note asking that his brain be studied.
Ray Easterling played in the NFL for 8 years. He was 61 when he joined several NFL players in a suit against the league over its handling of concussion-related injuries. The very next year Easterling shot himself.
Junior Seau played in the NFL for 20 years. Seau also shot himself in the chest so that his brain could be studied for chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Seau was 43 years old.
played for 3 years before killing his girlfriend in their home. Belcher then drove to Arrowhead stadium where he confronted members of the Kansas City Chief organization before putting a bullet in his own head at the age of 25.
played for 5 years before he shot and killed himself in his home. Oliver was 29 years old.
a football player for Ohio State University was found in a dumpster with a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Karageorge left a note for his mother saying that concussions had his head all messed up.
Of those players, all except Karageorge have been diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Expect Karageorge to join that list.
We all cheer their hits on the field, we beg for them to hit harder, and we scorn the referees for throwing penalty flags for unnecessary roughness. After the game ends our enjoyment soon follows and we go on with our merry lives.
I hate the argument that they get paid handsomely to play the game, implying that they shouldn’t complain. The word game is always said with a tinge of jealousy, as if that person would give anything to be in their position. The root of that argument is that the risk they take is well worth the millions of dollars.
There is no risk, there is certainty. Show me a former football player who can move around carefree at the age of 50 and I will call you a liar. Have you ever seen Terry Bradshaw stand up from behind his desk and take a few steps in either direction? Have you seen the hands and fingers of any former lineman? The pain that former players go through is well documented. Those players are not able to sit on the floor and play with their kids. They are not able to throw the football with their teenager in the backyard. There are no Saturday night pickup games of basketball. The surgeries and procedures are endless, and guess which league does not pay for any surgeries or procedures performed after the player is out of the league? The NFL. I hope their insurance covers preexisting conditions because getting over 20 surgeries is commonplace.
The average NFL player makes $1.9 million every year. The average NFL career is 3.3 years. So the average NFL player will make $6.27 million over the span of their career (this math only applies to the players of today, not players from previous decades). That means for every Peyton Manning (who has made $230 million over the span of his career), there are a hundred players like Sam Barrington making less than $600,000 ($49,000 guaranteed) this year. So let me ask you, is a lifetime of pain and suffering worth it for a player in Sam Barrington’s shoes?
We cheer, we high-five, we scream our lungs out, then we go back to our daily lives. We don’t think about the consequences of being a modern-day gladiator. Yet we act high and mighty, as if we don’t feed the machine that is the NFL.
We scream at and chastise Roger Goodell for only suspending Ray Rice for two games. Ray Rice punched his then-fiancee and knocked her out. Everybody was horrified by the initial light sentence. Front page headlines were abundant. Yet when Kosta Karageorge’s body was finally found on Sunday, there was only a brief blurb near the bottom of ESPN.com.
That is the reality of today. We live in a world where we get what we want, with no thought given to the sacrifices others have to make. No one wants to hear about the football player who just committed suicide. No one wants to commit that to memory. But please, for the love of God, show me that replay where the wide receiver running across the middle of the field gets pulverized, but this time in slow-motion. Oh, is he still on the ground? Is he moving? My god this is terrible. Oh, good, he raised his thumb. Let’s move on to the next play, I am sure he will be back on the field next week. I have been guilty of this very thought process. So have all of my friends. So have you.
By the way, Kosta Karageorge made exactly $0 playing football before taking his own life. Kosta Karageorge was complaining about not being able to think straight because of the concussions he had sustained. Kosta Karageorge was 22 years old and is survived by his mother, father, and sister.
Commit that to memory.