Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora raised plenty of eyebrows today when he wrote on Twitter that he thinks there’s a strong chance he’ll be in a wheelchair by age 45. Umenyiora has now taken some time to walk back from those comments — and to reiterate that he’s willing to take on the risks associated with playing football.
In an appearance on ESPN’s Outside the Lines, which is spending the week examining brain trauma in football, Umenyiora said he realizes that most NFL players make it to age 45 without becoming so disabled that they need a wheelchair. But he does believe there’s a good chance he’ll live with some type of physical ailments related to his playing career.
“I think, obviously, it was an exaggeration on my part. At least, I hope so — I hope it was an exaggeration,” Umenyiora said. “But there’s no question that it is a dangerous sport. A lot of us know the risks and ramifications of what we’re doing and we still choose to do it anyway because of the benefits of it and the lifestyle that it affords us to lead, and the fact that we get to go out there and play a team sport, and do things that we all dreamed of as a kid. But there’s no question of the dangers of football, and the long-term health issues.”
Much of the debate that rose up in the wake of the suicide of Junior Seau has centered on whether children should be discouraged from playing football. Umenyiora, who was born in England and lived much of his childhood in Nigeria, said he has never had to grapple with the questions of whether football is dangerous for children. At the NFL level, however, the game is absolutely dangerous — but it’s a danger Umenyiora can accept.
“Football is dangerous. It’s a dangerous sport at the NFL level. I can’t speak for the youth programs because I didn’t go through that,” Umenyiora said. “But at the NFL level it’s a dangerous sport, period. But at the end of the day we’re going to continue to do it because we love to do it and it allows us to provide for our families. Now the NFL has owners who care and a commissioner who cares and you can see them taking steps to eradicate the head traumas . . . but at the end of the day there’s really not much you’re going to be able to do to eradicate that completely, unless you’re going to eradicate the game of football, and that’s not going to happen.”
And Umenyiora doesn’t want it to happen. He’s happy to keep playing, fully aware of the risks.