When our good friend Alex Marvez of FOXSports.com forwarded a few days ago his new story regarding the post-football struggles of former NFL tight end Cam Cleeland, I was leery. It has become fashionable of late for former players to publicly complain after the fact about the head trauma they suffered while earning hundreds of thousands of dollars per year (or more), and we rarely hear about the many former NFL players who live their lives without difficulty or disability of any kind.
Our biggest problem with such cases is that we’re certain that most if not all of the former players would have signed up to play football even if they had been told in chapter-and-verse detail about the risks they were assuming by strapping on a hat and then banging it into stuff.
But Marvez’s story is one of the few that contains some hope for players who have reached the point in their lives where the risks have come to fruition. Cleeland has obtained evaluation and treatment from Dr. Daniel Amen, who used nutrition and supplements to improve problem areas spotted in Cleeland’s brain via a nuclear imaging scan of it.
“Rehabilitating brain trauma is my goal,” Amen told Marvez. “Think of these
players like police officers or firefighters. We know it’s a dangerous
job, and we own up to it. It’s the same thing for these players.”
Cleeland, who spent eight years in the league with the Saints, Patriots, and Rams, also acknowledges that he has no second thoughts about playing football. He does regret, however, the former culture of telling a player he has gotten his “bell rung” and putting him back in the game. Fueled by a Congressional interest in head injuries that arose last year, the NFL has made significant changes to the handling of players who have suffered concussions. (It came too late, but it was better late than never.)
Still, the risk exists. The players know it, now more than ever. But they accept that risk, because for every Cam Cleeland there are many players who have harvested the rewards and emerged from their playing careers without long-term consequences.
The goal, obviously, should be to get to the point where there are no Cam Cleelands. Our ongoing concern is that if/when the efforts to get there result in fundamental changes to the game that make it less interesting to the public, everyone loses.