By now we are all aware of the death and suicide of ex-Chicago Bear Dave Duerson. As an ex player I write this story with a heavy heart, having experienced this tragedy before with a former teammate, Andre Waters. I struggle to understand the how and why of it all. Why a man with 4 children and so much yet to offer and live for, could be left in solitude to struggle and fight the demons of his post professional football life, becoming so discouraged and hopeless to take his most precious gift, life?
It is hard for the outside world to fathom that life could be so difficult for a former NFL player, but life happens to us all, and at our core we are human beings that struggle with the same things that everyday people deal with on a daily basis. Understanding the nature of a professional football player is a must, in order to shed light on and understand the problem. We are breed to be warriors, to feel no pain in the midst of enormous pain, to fight through and never let the opponent see your pain. This superman persona is neccesary, because to not embody it would lessen our ability to be what we are and do what we do on the field. When problems arise we have been conditioned and programmed to deal with them internally, to search for the answers on our own and fix them ourselves. Anything less would be a show of weakness and percieved or real, it opens a potential doorway to be dominated. This defense mechanism serves us well on the field of play, but in life it is the cause for much pain and suffering.
Like Andre Waters, here is a man battling daily his demons and illnesses, outwardly giving the impression to the tragic end, that all was well. We all do it, when we encounter our former fraternity brothers the question is always asked, “how’s life, how are you doing, what are you up to and how’s your loved ones,” the stock answer is always, “great, life is fabulous,” who wants to devulge their problems and issues to the public, let alone another NFL bretheren. The more severe the problem or issues of life, the more we isolate ourselves and allow our egos and pride to prevent us from seeking the help that we truly need. How sad, for all that we have meant to others, for all the lives we’ve enhanced and made better, we lack the strength to ask those same people to help us when the walls of struggle close in on us.
The other culprit in this tragedy is the NFL and the NFLPA. Only Within the last 10-15 years have both organizations acknowledged the severity of concussions and the long term effects that accompany them. The wear and tear that the human body and mind has to endure to play in the NFL is unfathomable to those who have never experienced it, it’s the most degenerative process of all the major sports. Yet we are provided the worst benefits and health care program to our players of the major sports associations. The public no doubt looks at that statement and holds little sympathy for NFL players, present or past, and that may be the outlook and thoughts of the NFL and the NFLPA as well, believing that our compensation should be the source of care after our playing days are over. It is so much bigger than the that, the education and availability of resources sits at the crossroads of this problem, and it will only get worse if something isn’t done to rectify the problem. The truth is, the death of Dave Duerson is a loud indictment on the level of post career health care that’s available to former players, to not only service their physical needs, but most importantly their mental health needs. Other players who’ve had untimely natural deaths are on the rise as well, some but not all have been plagued by heart, mental and depression problems, Reggie White, Todd Bell, Gaines Adams and Norman Hand just to name a few. The million dollar question is, will the NFL and NFLPA step up to the plate and do the right thing by the players who have sacrificed and yet gained much to make the NFL what it is today?
The NFL is a 9 billion dollar a year industry, with the owners, players and PA sharing in that prosperity. Someone please pray and tell me why can’t a solution to this problem be addressed, with that kind of revenue streaming each and every year? The truth is it can be, if they deemed it important enough. The NFL continues to skirt the issue, while the NFLPA’s focus has been for the most part zeroed in on their personal needs and the needs of the current players. What the current players fail to realize is that the day of them becoming former players are approaching faster than they could ever realize, and they will be the next generation of former players facing these same issues.
The concussions are a hot topic right now, CTE or Chronic traumatic encephalopathy has shed great light on the problem and the NFL has taken minimal steps to address the problem. The standard for evaluating concussions is flawed, the Impact test is nothing more than a series of questions asked by an administrator to evaluate whether or not a player has a concussion or not. Their objective is to create a baseline for measuring where a player is before he gets a concussion, to compare it to where the brain is when it does experience a concussion. Little is done to help prevent or rehabilitate a player post concussion. How can a set of questions be the standard for measurement with regards to a concussed brain. As Pittsburgh Steelers Hines Ward stated this year, “Once players figure out the process and what the questions are, they will begin to circumvent the system to return to the field, by telling the evaluator what he or she wants to hear to get back on the field,” remember, we’ve been breed to think and believe that we are supermen. Scans and such really are no more conclusive either, scans only read blood flow and yes blood flow gives an indication of a concussed brain, but a brain in a meditative state or one of unusually low frequencies exhibits low blood flow also. I am by no means a doctor, but given the fact that I played for 13 years, I have a vested interest in what the future will hold for my personal health and well being. I’ve research the benefits of Neuro-feedback, Virtual Reality Training for the military, dealing with PTSD; Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Cognitive Rehabilitation and Stress Inoculation training, to Brain Training and balancing for many of the same issues through a company called, Brain State Technology. All else has not worked, so the necessity to look outside of the box for answers is upon us.
As the NFL and NFLPA embark on negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement, I hope that these issues are a part of those conversations. An improvement in educating current and former players on the importance of better health for a better quality and longevity of life, and better benefits that help players when they need it most. The stats and facts are public knowledge, the average life span of a former NFL player is 52-55 years old, yet healthcare benefits were only extended to former players, previously for 3 years post retirement and now 5 years for current players. NFL Pensions cannot be received until 45 years of age, but at a 25% penalty, and full benefits at 52 years of age. The average mortality age and benefit age is a joke, and the NFL knows it, why shouldn’t these benefits be available to players at their greatest time of need, determined by the player? The lion-share of a players pension is never realized by the average player. My hope is that Dave Duerson did not die in vain, that the NFL and NFLPA come to their senses and service the needs of former players and educate current players of what the future holds for them and doing all that they can to protect them. The loss of another man with so much to give, to offer and teach is a travesty. My condolences and prayers go out to his children and loved ones, RIP Dave.
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