Sunday, February 07, 2010

Lazy Sunday # 105: “Blood Equity”


It’s Super Bowl Sunday and for the next hours it’s all about football. This is the biggest sports and television night of the year. Over 100 Million Americans will catch at least a part of the game. Hundreds of millions more will tune in around the world.

It’s bigger than the Academy Awards, the Emmys and the Grammys rolled together. Tonight show business takes a back seat to the Big Show.

Many of those tuning in may be more interested in the commercials than what takes place on the field. This year CBS will earn an average of $3 Million for each 30 second commercial.

Hotels in Las Vegas, where an estimated $85 Million will be bet on the game, are jammed and running low on Tequila shooters and Champagne. Elsewhere, the total legally and illegally wagered will top $10 Billion.

An actual ticket to the game costs more than $2000, if you can find one. Most have been snapped up by corporations connected in one way or another with the NFL, who will each be spending tens of millions more to wine and dine clients and executive staff in private boxes and roped off clubs.

More private jets will fly out of Miami tonight than there are jets in the armed forces of most countries. Each will be emitting an average of 15 tons of CO2 on their one way journeys home. Something to consider for those thinking that riding a bike will make a difference to the planet.


Super Bowl XLIV will also be a pinnacle of achievement in the lives of every player who takes the field. A moment no human being could ever forget.


Someday. A day for some not long in the future. Most won’t remember it. It will simply be a day somebody reminds them once took place. The same way they’ll need to be reminded of what happened yesterday, who their kids are and sometimes their own names.

No one who watches NFL football is unaware of how physically brutal it can be. Bones are regularly broken. Knees, ankles and shoulders are shredded. And delicate brains are bounced around inside skulls on almost every play.

No one comes out of a career in football in better physical condition than when they went in.

And in the same way most will one day forget they ever played; the league and the players union they built, the networks and the private corporations they enriched, have already forgotten them.

Dave Pear won a Super Bowl with the Oakland Raiders and helped build the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, becoming the first to wear that team’s helmet in the Pro Bowl. Now, because of injuries sustained playing football, he has endured seven spinal surgeries, has failing brain functions and is in constant pain despite medications that cost him thousands of dollars and yet only receives a monthly medical benefit of $606 from the NFL.

And he’s one of the lucky ones.

There are dozens of stories of NFL players like Andre Waters and Mike Webster, both suffering such severe dementia that they ended their own lives at the ages of 44 and 50 respectively. In Waters case, an autopsy revealed the physically ravaged brain of a man in his 80’s.

Others still living range from Willie Wood, the legendary Green Bay Packer who became a star in Super Bowl I, now bed-ridden, suffering cognitive problems and unable to pay his bills on an $1,100 per month NFL pension. And there’s former Offensive guard Brian DeMarco, who was recently discovered in Texas, broke, unable to work or cope with the pain of game related spine and knee injuries. DeMarco is 36 years old.


Conrad Dobler, star offensive lineman of the St. Louis Cardinals and voted the NFL’s “dirtiest player” by Sports Illustrated in 1977, has had 32 knee surgeries and 8 knee replacements.

Practically living on Vicodin to deal with constant pain, Dobler was repeatedly denied disability benefits by the NFL. His first reaction was to fight back with humor, "If I got turned down by girls as much as I was turned down by the NFL, I'd still be a virgin."

And then he began organizing for fellow veterans too pain ridden or addled to fight for themselves.

Dobler, former coach Mike Ditka and Green Bay Packer great, Jerry Kramer, stepped to the forefront both personally and through organizations like “Gridiron Greats” to bring the abandonment of former NFL players to light. They have been speaking out publicly as well as lobbying the US Congress to help men who brought excitement and enormous wealth to so many and now suffer so hideously.

In Ditka’s words, “If Charles Dickens were alive today, he’d be writing about the NFL.”

One other who has stepped up to make a difference is three time Super Bowl Champion Roman Phifer, who left football three years ago at the age of 38 and was reluctantly dragged to a retired players meeting.

He was shocked by what he saw. Men he’d admired and patterned himself after were now shadows of their former selves, struggling with severe medical issues and receiving no help from the League they had helped to earn Billions and a Players Association rich enough to pay its president $6.7 Million a year.

Phifer realized he might soon be in the same shoes as his idols and decided to make a film about what was happening to these players.

The result is “Blood Equity” a powerful and moving indictment of the NFL and the NFLPA as well as a plea for fair-minded people to demand that those who sell us football take care of those who make the game what it is.

Have fun watching the Super Bowl tonight. But remember how much these guys are going to hurt in the morning. And understand what that pain will become in ten or twenty years time.

Do something to support them if you can. It’ll help you enjoy your Sunday. 



For readers based in the United States, “Blood Equity” can be viewed in its entirety at which includes information on Dave’s progress and links to the stories of many former players fighting similar battles with their health and the NFL. (H/T RobertinSeattle)

You can support Conrad Dobler and his crusade by purchasing his autobiography “Pride and Perseverance” here.

You can also make a donation to “Gridiron Greats” or purchase tickets to one of their upcoming events here.

And why not take a break from the halftime show while “The Who” play the theme songs to all the CSI shows (the real reason CBS hired them) and write your congressman in support of the players. Email addresses can be found here. With a little help from Google it shouldn’t be too hard to find a former NFL player who shares his or her alma mater and is now struggling to function normally and survive.

These former Gladiators are up against the most powerful sports league in the world and a media afraid of the consequences of challenging them. They need your help.


RobertinSeattle said...

Thanks for bringing attention to this fight, Jim. It seems the only successful ways to get these rich billionaire owners to pay attention and pay up is to
- take them to court (Bernie Parrish helped the retired players win $26 million recently);
- through Congress (the Judiciary Committee is looking at their antitrust exemption as well as concussions now); and
- through the court of public opinion (more fans are finally spreading the word using new avenues like blogs online such as this one.

Many of the retired players plan on carrying the fight through the off-season, much to the NFL's surprise. They've been so used to having total control over the media for so long in keeping this story suppressed and they now find themselves caught like a deer in the headlights every day.


Nick said...

It's hard to make those that sell us football take care of the players who give it to us when the first person who raises the Vince Lombardi Trophy is the owner of the team.