Last Monday, a housekeeper found the body of former NFL wide receiver Vincent Jackson. While everyone knows that he starred for the Chargers and Buccaneers, his untimely passing is the reason this article appears before you. At 38 years old, Vincent Jackson left this world far too young. More importantly, as equally upsetting, he wasn’t the first or last retired player to die prematurely. What galls me most, turning my stomach into a pretzel is how the NFL discards players. For a billion-dollar company that stresses family, unity, and every other marketable trope, they show their retirees little to no respect. Cogs in a machine may work for engines, but remains an atrocious way to deal with people.
Out of Sight
When good players like Jackson retire, part of you expects him to lead a carefree life, enjoying his millions, playing with his kids, and golfing. yet, for many in the NFL, the exit door, thrusts them into an unknown world. Think about it: many players, since age four or five played some level of football, knowing little else. Now, they become regular citizens, in everyday life, facing new challenges. Instead of cheering, the crowd left a while back. I am reminded of the story of Jim McMahon. In the 1980s, McMahon’s face never left the TV. However, when his career ended, the real struggles began.
If you hear the NFL tell it, their retirees, to a man, receive state-of-the-art medical care, regardless of status. Former Raiders safety Stuart Schweigert. Schweigert detailed the hoops he needed to jump through in order to receive medical care for his post-concussion syndrome. Not every player lands a cushy broadcasting gig. Many need to find day jobs, if they’re able to work. The average NFL career lasts 3.5 years. Vincent Jackson enjoyed a dozen. More of the exception than the rule. The NFL touts their Legend Community as a bastion of outreach and help. Meanwhile, players like Ryan Leaf strongly disagree.
When an NFL player dies, the first thing that crosses my mind is CTE. Regardless of the situation, my mind flies right to those horrifying acronyms. From what early indications tell us, Vincent Jackson shows some of the warning signs. However, until the Boston CTE Center publicizes their findings, one will know for sure. Jackson, like thousands before him, paid the high price of playing pro football: catastrophic injury. The axiom stating that no play escapes a season completely healthy rings true. From nicks to pulls to more serious pain, the life of an NFL player seems like a neverending lesson in pain management. As a result, fans continue to make asses of themselves when they spout off about adults playing a kid’s game.
If you’re honest, you must admit that the NFL and the NFLPA could not care less about retired players. Once you stopped paying those union dues, the NFLPA has nothing for you. Similarly, hanging up the cleats means the league closes its door, turns its back, and goes about business. While I don’t expect anything above the bare minimum from Park Avenue, the NFLPA sells itself on taking care of players. Something feels rather wrong about the entire landscape of dealing with retired players.
Without question, our thoughts go out to the family of Vincent Jackson and any NFL player that left this world too. Their families know a specific pain that many won’t. With that feeling of significant loss, the NFL and NFLPA must invest in deeper retiree funding and research. The saddest part? Well, discuss this topic forever.