Commentary: Is the Price of NFL Injuries Too High to Pay?

49ers linebacker NaVorro Bowman becomes poster child for dangers of playing the game.

Posted: 01/22/2014 06:03 PM EST
Filed Under Sports News, NFL, Football

It was ugly; it was gruesome. NaVorro Bowman, one of the finest linebackers in the National Football League, was making yet another big play Sunday when a wide receiver from the Seattle Seahawks rolled into Bowman’s knee, which bent in a way a knee’s not supposed to bend.

He didn’t play another down.

No telling what effect Bowman might have had on the NFC Championship game, which he had to watch the final minutes of from the San Francisco 49ers' locker room. His Niners lost 23-17, and maybe he did, too. He will face surgery, hopeful that the surgeon’s skill can allow him to play as he had played.

He has no guarantees.

Yet that’s what makes the financial demands of the retired NFL players in their suit against the league so important. They walk — rather, limp — away from the sport with injuries that, the glory of the game notwithstanding, can turn old age into agony.

According to the respected website MMQB.si.com, 269 players ended up on the league’s injured reserve list in 2013, and the numbers on the list have been creeping upward through most of the past decade.

Those numbers don’t take into account a player who was injured but did not go on the IR, which effectively sidelines him for the season.

Between concussions and knee injuries, the NFL is a sports doctor’s delight. A physician can grow fat on treating professional football players, because even the best of them have nettlesome injuries throughout the season that make aches and pains their constant companions.

Men who have spent their youth playing football cannot say the pains aren’t part of playing the game. Nor can they discount the risk of an injury that might derail whatever goals they have for playing the game for money.

But in playing for money, are they making a bargain with the bogeyman? Can they really be so naive as to believe their short-term enjoyment will keep them fulfilled over the long term?

Men in their youth don’t fret the long term. They play in the moment, thinking that the game — and the big paychecks that come with it — will be in their lives as long as they want it to. They are wrong. The cheering stops, and they will, too often, face abnormal lives — lives betrayed or abandoned by a sport they once adored.

An injury like Bowman’s (torn ligaments in his left knee) is a reminder of the risks of playing a game as unforgiving and as brutal as pro football. Bowman was just doing what star players in the NFL do: He was making a big play.

Teammates and coaches say he’ll be back. They call Bowman “tough”; they say he’s a “warrior”; they say he’s a “special guy.”

But what do any of these platitudes mean when a man’s career is over, and he has to piece together an existence with little money from the NFL and its inadequate compensation to ease his transition into the life of an ex-player?

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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Follow Justice B. Hill on Twitter: @jbernardh

 (Photo: Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

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