Former NFL star Dave Pear is sorry he ever played football
"Don't let your kids play football," he says. "Never."
It is an odd thing, hearing these sort of words from a man like David Louis Pear, University of Washington standout, Pro Bowl defensive lineman for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Super Bowl champion with the Oakland Raiders. His five-year NFL career was one thousands of high school and college athletes would envy -- charging out of a darkened stadium tunnel, 70,000 fans screaming for you, loving you, praising you, idolizing you.
"You wanna know the truth?" says Pear.
The question lingers -- the 56-year-old ex-athlete preparing to unload one more skull-splitting hit.
"I wish I never played football. I wish that more than anything. Every single day, I want to take back those years of my life ..."
The words are not subtle. They spit from Pear's mouth, with a blistering contempt normally reserved for drunk drivers. We are speaking via phone. I am in New York, sipping a hot chocolate, leaning back in a chair. My two young children are asleep. A Pretenders song, "2000 Miles," plays in the background. No worries, no complexities. Pear is sitting at his home in Seattle. His neck hurts. His hips hurt. His knees hurt. His feet hurt. When he wakes up in the morning, pain shoots through his body. When he goes to sleep at night, pain shoots through his body. What does Pear do to stay active?
"My life is simple," he says. "It's hard to get out of bed, but eventually I do. I try and do a little walking on the treadmill. I take naps. I go to physical therapy once per week. I read my Bible."
He is, in basic terms, a train wreck -- a football-inflicted train wreck. Pear walks with a cane and, often, simply doesn't walk at all. He suffers from vertigo and memory loss. Over the past 18 years, he has undergone eight surgeries, beginning with a Posterior Cervical Laminectomy on his neck in 1981, and including disc removal and rod fusion in his back (1987), arthroplasty in his left hip (2008) and, earlier this year, four screws removed from his lower back. Though he chalks up his physical ailments to snap after snap of punishment, he pinpoints the biggest problems back to 1979 and '80, his final two NFL seasons. While playing for Oakland, Pear suffered a herniated disc in his neck that never improved. Despite the unbearable agony, he says the Raiders urged him to keep playing.
Throughout North America, many of Pear's retired football brethren hear his words and scream,
"And the NFL," Pear says, "doesn't care."
Hence, he is fighting back. Two years ago, Pear started a blog, davepear.com, with the intent of supporting hobbled NFL veterans and calling out the league's laughable disability policy. Pear says he first applied for disability benefits in 1983, and was denied. He applied again in 1995, under a new provision that stated players would be compensated should they properly prove their injuries were permanently debilitating. A league-appointed physician examined Pear and filed a report stating that a man who once bench pressed 500 pounds could no longer sit, stand or bend for prolonged time periods.
To Pear's shock and dismay, benefits were again denied.
Finally, in 2009, Pear's request was accepted, and he now receives a whopping $40,000 annually. "Am I financially stable?" he asks with a laugh. "Let's put it this way. By the time I was 27 I had two children and medical bills that would reach $500,000. I can't work, my wife,
Pear pauses. He worries that he sounds like a typical whiner -- some ex-jock who didn't appreciate making it big. "This isn't even about me," he says. "It really isn't. There are guys so much worse off than me, it's criminal. We dreamed our whole lives to play professional football, and our dreams came true. And then they turn into nightmares."
Pear is blunt, like a rusty dental knife. He considered
"We need help," he says.
A long, painful sigh.
"We need help."