Sometimes I actually write about football on this blog …
The article by Paul Imig appeared on FOXSportsWisconsin.com on March 28, but I didn’t see it until this month when a friend from a Green Bay Packers fan page circulated it. The headline: At 49, Majkowski has already lived “nightmare.” Here’s the link to the full article: http://www.foxsportswisconsin.com/story/at-49-majkowski-has-already-lived-nightm?blockID=885423
Onetime Packers signal caller Don Majkowski may be most notable for the ankle injury he suffered in 1992, opening the quarterback position to his backup, a recent acquisition named Favre. But he played ten years in the league—for the Packers, Colts and Lions—and finished second in MVP voting behind Joe Montana in 1989. They called him The Majik Man. He gave me a lot of enjoyable Sunday afternoons.
For the past two years, Imig reported, Majkowski has lived in agony. He’s had eleven surgeries on that left ankle, and his foot is locked in place. Six months ago he had fusion surgery on his back, and he hopes to put off, for a while, similar surgery on his neck. He has a bad shoulder and post-traumatic concussion syndrome. He can’t play golf or coach his son’s team. He sold his real estate investment company because it was too hard to go to work. In his forties.
Majkowski told Imig he has no regrets. But, last week, former Detroit Lion Lem Barney shocked attendees at the Sound Mind Sound Body camp in Southfield, Michigan, by claiming that if he had it to do over, he would not play football, even if he earned the millions that star players do today. Barney said he suffered seven or eight concussions during his playing career. He cited the deaths of Dave Duerson and Junior Seau, who both committed suicide while suffering from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), the brain disease associated with football head trauma. He maintained that the deaths of Bubba Smith and Deacon Jones were also related to their football injuries.
The Hall of Famer went so far as to call football “deadly” and predicted that the sport would be abolished within the next two decades. If that sounds like someone who’s been hit in the head one time too often, well, that’s the point.
Barney later apologized for making those remarks at a kids’ camp, but not for his words.
I’ve been a Packer fan for over fifty years, and the players who appealed to me the most were always the ones who could shrug off an injury and go back into the game. I saw them as heroic figures. Suck it up, play with pain—wasn’t that the Vince Lombardi way?
But the game has become increasingly dangerous. Players today are bigger and faster than their counterparts in the past, and they train more intensively. In the last few years, the league has implemented a number of rule changes designed to protect players, especially quarterbacks. I’ve been in the camp that criticized them for watering down the game. “What’s next, flag football?” we’d ask. “Isn’t this a man’s game? After all, they chose to play a contact sport.”
I cheered as loudly as anyone in my local sports bar last October 7 when Nick Perry of the Packers delivered a punishing hit on Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, resulting in a sack and a fumble. And I booed when the officials overturned the play, citing unnecessary roughness, because I thought Perry’s savage hit was clean. But now I’m looking at the incident differently. Luck may not be my quarterback, but I don’t want him to end up like Majkowski.
At least Majkowski won his workers compensation case and got the league to pay his medical bills. That’s not the case for many players of his era and those that preceded it—a topic for a future blog.
We fans may be the ones who have to “suck it up” and accept a radically different game. Something does need to change. I don’t like to see my heroes hurting.