ARE YOU READY FOR SOME FOOTBALL?

Soon that cry will go out over the land, as it does on most Monday nights during football season. We watch the spectacle of the regular season through the playoffs and on to the Super Bowl. We see pro football players dating super models, doing commercials, and being themselves in cameos on TV shows.

But there is a dark side we rarely see and that’s what Blood Equity shows, the effects when the cheering stops. There have been periodic attempts at this. Sometimes a former player such as Peter Gent, writes a couple of novels “blowing the lid off.” Sometimes we might catch a news story about an Andre Waters, a Mike Webster, or a John Mackey. We nod our heads in sympathy, commenting about what a shame it is that “this” has happened.

For myself, I grew up watching Jim Brown run for Cleveland (Note: Jim Brown is the greatest running back of all time and one of the greatest athletes of all time – this is NOT subject to discussion.) I watched the first Super Bowl (although it was not identified as such). I watched the Jets beat the Colts in Super Bowl III. I’ve watched most all of the Super Bowls over these years, cheering for and against the players appearing in Blood Equity.

I actually started wondering just what I was cheering for about fifteen or so years ago during a Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremony. There was Chris Berman introducing all of the Hall of Fame members in attendance when I realized that many (most) of these men were crippled and could barely walk, some of them my own age. From Blood Equity, it appears I am not alone with the questioning as we see Mike Webster’s son describe how the NFL and the Hall of Fame made sure his father was cleaned up and presentable for his Hall of Fame induction. And then let him go back to the hell he was living in due to the concussions he had received over the years.

The NFL is obviously complicit with the problems (with average careers of 3.5 years, players feel the pressure to stay on the field). We hear Tony Dorsett describing how he was told that he had a broken back “but that it’s alright, it’s OK for you to play.” We hear Darryl Johnston describing the “stingers” he had running from his neck to his hands, his surgery to correct the problem and the return of the problem in his first game back, prompting his retirement. We’ve all heard announcers at all levels proclaiming “Ah, he just got his bell rung there but he’s a football player so he’ll shake it off and be back shortly.”

As bad as the NFL itself has been, it is the NFL Player’s Association, the player’s own union, that is the focus of Blood Equity. In 1993, through collective bargaining, the NFLPA became responsible for all the aspects of the retirement plans, disability claims, and overall administration. Yet only the active players have a vote on anything. The late Gene Upshaw is quoted as saying he didn’t work for the retired players but only for the active players who paid his salary. Yet, as one of the interviewees points out, the preamble to the NFLPA Constitution describes the debt owed to the earlier players. In fact, at the Players Associations own site the following is the response to the FAQ “What does the NFLPA do?”:

The NFL Players Association is a union devoted to helping players past, present and future. …

Are there changes being made? Well, just a couple of weeks ago, the NY Times reports on a Fox announcement from their NFL show that there is going to be a change in how concussions are handled. This is not actually that much of a surprise as the NFL has long been the most PR conscious of the professional sports and with players such as Al Toon, Wayne Chrebet, Steve Young, Troy Aikman, Ted Johnson, and Merril Hoge all having had to retire due to concussions over the last few years, this is a minimum first step. But it still does not address the other problems the retired and disabled players are facing.

Please join me in the comments and welcome our guests, Joe Ruggerio and Rico McClinton, Producers of Blood Equity as well as Associate Producer, William J. MacDonald as we discuss the film and the fall out from the NFL and the Players Association as well as further steps by the retirees. As always, please stay on topic and take off topic comments and discussions back to earlier threads.