It’s been a bad year for many of the Buffalo Bills legends and if the NFL doesn’t do something, it’s only going to get worse.
As a Bills fan, this offseason has been depressing at times hearing story after story trickle out about health issues some of the Bills legends are going through. We’re talking about some of the finest to ever play for the Bills in Jim Kelly, Bruce Smith, Thurman Thomas and Darryl Talley.
Seeing some of my idols growing up admit to being in pain now is soul crushing. They sacrificed their future health to make some money while playing the game they love and entertaining so many who idolize them still to this day.
Try to get through reading Darryl Talley’s wife, Janine’s, article for BuffaloFambase.org and not shed a tear. I dare you. It’s not just Darryl that suffers from his mood swings most likely caused by too many collisions. His whole family suffers as documented in the article. Below is another heartbreaking passage from her article.
"“There were days when the pain was immediate. Just putting his feet on the floor was a challenge for Darryl. He’d maneuver his body up and out of bed with mental and physical calculation, wince in pain and hobble like a man 30 years his senior.”"
Darryl seems to be suffering the most out of the players we’ll discuss but there are others going through challenges as well.
Thurman Thomas told a story earlier this offseason where he was driving his car and forgot where he was going and what he was doing. Feeling helpless, he had to call his wife and she begged him to come home. He went to go see a doctor shortly thereafter.
FoxSports.com reports that the doctor told Thurman his brain was “similar to someone who has fallen off the top of a house, on to the front of his head, or going through a windshield of a car several times.”
That’s a scary thought. Unfortunately, Thurman’s family feels the effects too according to ESPN.com. he said, “Still to this day, I can’t control my mood swings. On so many days, I have to apologize to my family for them.”
Bruce Smith, the NFL’s all-time sack leader, also suffers from pain. Sports Illustrated reports that he said:
"“There’s not a day that goes by that I’m not in pain. Multiple joints and things that I experience on a daily basis. It can be very frustrating sometimes and painful, but I’m very blessed.”"
Jim Kelly admitted this offseason to getting a concussion in the Super Bowl versus Washington and that after the game he had “no clue where he was”.
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It’s not just the legends that are suffering either. Bills linebacker, A.J. Tarpley retired after his rookie season because of too many concussions. In an article that he wrote for MMQB, he detailed his reasons for the decision.
This begs the question, how can we protect our heroes? This is not the way we want to see them spend the rest of their lives. The NFL needs to use “the shield” and all the power and money associated with it to protect these players like a shield would a warrior in battle.
The problem is there’s no financial benefit in it for the league because fans keep showing up despite all this horrible news and I’m no different. I still go to games on occasion, watch every Sunday at home or at a local pub, I’m in three fantasy leagues, I listen to many NFL podcasts and read the articles from the NFL.com writers.
In some ways, it reminds me of the Chris Rock comedy special where he talks about curing a disease versus treating it and compares it to a drug dealer.
"“Ain’t no money in the cure, the money’s in the medicine. That’s how a drug dealer makes his money. On the come back.”"
While not a perfect analogy because the NFL is not selling drugs, what it is selling, is the idea that it truly cares about its players. But if that were true, more money would be spent upfront protecting players by using more of the billions a year the league makes to support past and current players healthcare needs and more studies on concussions.
Instead, the league is reactive and that’s why money is spent afterward on lawsuits from the NFLPA, taking way too long to fund studies on the matter and also not doing so in “good faith”.
One of the points that Jenny Vrentas of MMQB makes in her article, elegantly states the conflict of interest the league has, “The NFL’s business interests align with demonstrating a commitment to health and safety so future generations of parents are comfortable letting their kids play football.”
Unfortunately, until the league feels some financial pain from the fans for not treating their former players well enough this is going to continue to happen. It’s sad to watch our childhood sports heroes become a shell of themselves in their later years in life.
It may become the norm which should be unacceptable to fans, players both current and former, and most especially the league who has made billions of dollars off of these players blood, sweat and tears. The players are ones who take all the physical risk and yet don’t get paid nearly enough reward.
It’s time to fix the problem. Not tomorrow but starting right now. Treat our heroes like human beings. Human beings who gave it all for the league and deserve a league that will give it all for them when they are in need.