Dear NFL Player:
As you surely know, your league is in the process of trying to increase the regular season from 16 to 18 games while eliminating two preseason contests. Perhaps you're excited about this. A little more money in the pocket. Extra exposure. Increased dashes through the secondary and rushes toward the quarterback. You love football. You live for football. You've probably said, "I'd play this game for free" 500 times -- and you've always meant it.
Don't do it.
That's right -- don't even think about doing it. When you hear NFL commissioner Roger Goodell say, "We want to [expand the schedule] the right way for everyone, including the players, the fans and the game in general," recognize that the man cares not a smidgen about you, your family or your teammates.
Heck, how could he? Over the past couple of years, a massive amount of research has been done on the physical and psychological toll football places upon an individual -- and the results are staggering. Play this game long enough, with the intensity and aggressiveness needed to succeed, and odds are you will wind up with either:
A. No knees.
B. A backbone that can't straighten.
C. Chronic pain that keeps you up at night and in bed come morning.
D. A concussion-damaged brain that fails to remember important little details -- like the names of your children.
E. All of the above.
Need examples? Former Raiders lineman Dave Pear can barely walk. Neither can former Bears lineman Wally Chambers. Or Tampa tight end Jimmie Giles. Brent Boyd, a Vikings offensive lineman from 1980-86, suffered a stroke last week -- the latest in a long line of medical setbacks he relates to the game (Wrote Boyd in an e-mail to supporters: "The NFL's trying to convince anyone that concussions could not cause headaches, dizziness, fatigue, or memory loss. Really?"). Ted Johnson, the standout Patriots linebacker from 1995-2004, suffers from amphetamine addiction, depression and headaches related to post-concussion syndrome and Second Impact Syndrome. Only 38, he already shows signs of early Alzheimer's disease. The list is endless -- hundreds upon hundreds of men permanently broken by professional football.
And now, in the name of extra bucks (For the owners, two more regular-season games means two more weeks of television, of gate receipts, of concessions, of parking, etc. ... etc.), Goodell and his cronies are asking you to play more real games; to absorb extra pounding; to lay your body on the line so rich men in luxury boxes can afford that ninth house in the hills. "There's a tremendous amount of momentum for it," he recently said. "We think it's the right step."
Truth is, extending the regular season is good for the commissioner, the owners -- and absolutely nobody else. As Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer rightly noted, the more regular-season games played, the less they matter. Furthermore, when Patriots owner Bob Kraft states that fans crave fewer preseason games, he conveniently fails to mention why they feel that way: It's not that the exhibition games are unenjoyable (Most people I know like getting a chance to see myriad players trying to make a lasting impression), it's that franchises -- like, ahem, New England -- charge full prices, and insist that season ticket holders pay for those games, too.
But, really, it's not about that. The bottom line here is that, in extending the season, the NFL is continuing to treat players like yourself as cattle, not human beings. The concussions will increase. So will the sprains, the tears, the spinal injuries. Your peers will be convinced the bonus revenue of two extra games will help the bank accounts, only to later realize that their careers were cut short by the increased demand on their bodies. Or, as Pear told me recently, had he known then what he knows now, "there's no way I ever play football. No way."
Think about it.