They keep going down for the count – knocked out for the season and, perhaps, robbed of some of the skills that made them great. Football is a brutal game, and we ought to know it now if we didn’t know it yesterday.
The list of players out for the season could make a first-rate franchise, and now that Houston Texans star Arian Foster has been added to the Injured Reserve list, the franchise has lost its Pro Bowl running back.
Foster will need back surgery, which means he’s in for a tough round of rehab.
But I’m not so much thinking about Foster as I am about football as a whole. As much as Americans like me love the sport, cheer its brutality and root for the highlight film hits, we tend to discount what that brutality does to a man.
For Foster, it’s his back that’s balked on him. For a running back like Tony Dorsett, it’s his mind. Dorsett, 59, has become the newest face of the ugliness that is the side of pro football after the cheering stops.
He’s been making the talk circuit, sharing with the world his troubles – troubles that none of us would want as we move into the twilight of our lives. Who wants to not remember?
I’m not talking about not remembering the disappointments in our lives. We all want to forget those. I’m talking about forgetting the joys of living, the loves in our lives, the close friendships, the holidays, the touchdowns for those men who were good enough to score them.
The sport we love most in America is breaking those men. In Dorsett’s case, it’s his brain that’s broken; in Earl Campbell’s case, it’s the rest of his body – his hip, his knees and the pain that goes with it all. Campbell, too, is a snapshot of the brain-rattling, bone-breaking business that is pro football.
Yet what can we do about it? Can we legislate this multi-billion dollar game to the point that it becomes touch football? Can we put the players in bubble wrap and hope it prevents injuries like Foster’s? Or can we do nothing and just tell men like Dorsett, Campbell, Leonard Marshall, Joe DeLamielleure, Reggie Williams and maybe Foster that their retirement aches are the price for fame?
Fame at that price costs too much. Old athletes can say what they want about not living life anew and changing aspects of what they did. Longevity is every man’s dream, Martin Luther King Jr. once said. But growing old in great pain is not. For only a fool would wish for the kind of pain and emotional problems that Campbell and Dorsett, as well as thousands of other athletes, have.
When we live in the moment, we forget that most of us have a tomorrow, and that tomorrow can be what we make it – filled with mobility, a sharp mind and the money to afford a decent life.
Without the first two, the latter isn’t worth having. Players like Arian Foster should keep that fact in mind when a surgeon comes calling with a scalpel and promises of fixing what’s broken so they can play one more down.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
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(Photo: Jeff Gross/Getty Images)