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Lester Hayes says consequences of injuries are “all on the players”

Lester Hayes Getty Images

At a time when more and more former players have sued the NFL over concussions suffered during their playing careers, one former player who played the game at a very high level has no plans to blame anyone but the players for the post-football condition of their bodies.

“It’s all on the players, not anybody else, because the players have the same gladiator genes that existed in Rome over 2,000 years ago,” former Raiders cornerback Lester Hayes tells Terence Moore in a special item for CNN.com.  “They have a love of football to the 10th power.  So the players make the final call.  Trust me.  No matter what they are told by doctors or anybody else, they will fight to play.”

Of course, that’s easy for Hayes to say.  He emerged from 10 seasons of NFL football unscathed.  At age 57, he has no lingering injuries, of any kind.  (Including illnesses from inhaling all those stickum fumes.)

He seems to be surprised by his good fortune.

“Lord, have mercy.  It’s so much safer to play in the NFL these days than during my time,” Hayes said.  “We didn’t have any guidelines.  You could actually lead with your face mask [as a defender] — putting your face mask on an opposing player’s face mask, without a $15,000 fine.  You could throw a forearm shiver to the throat.  People played with broken bones.  Guys would carry smelling salt in their socks, so if you got a little woozy on the field, you’d reach into your sock for help.”

Hayes claims that, when he was injured and wanted to play, he had to deal with doctors who tried to keep him from suiting up, once with a strained calf muscle.  “It was 1985, and I had never missed a game, and me and Dr. [Richard] Rosenfeld were going at it — back and forth, and I’m begging him, just pleading and screaming at him, ‘Doc, I’ve got to play.  Give me the shot. . . .  The Doc is telling me, ‘Lester, take a few days off.  I don’t like shooting muscle.’  But it’s going back and forth, with me yelling.  And God rest his soul, he wouldn’t back down, not until I just forced him to do it.  He always showed a lot of love and compassion.”

And it wasn’t only Hayes who pushed to play.  “Listen, I’m waiting there outside of the secret room [where [pain-killing shots were dispensed], observing, listening to Doc tell players, ‘Sit out. Sit out.’  They wouldn’t do it, because they were gladiators, and Mr. [Al] Davis had instilled such a will of winning into each of us that we had to get out there. . . .

“Mr. Davis never pressured us to play,” Hayes said. “He never, never did. It was always the player’s call. You can’t blame Mr. Davis, and you can’t blame the doctors, because a lot of guys see stars on the field, but that gladiator gene takes over.  I never saw Dr. Rosenfeld apply pressure in the secret room, except to try to put us in street clothes on game days.”

Though plenty of other former players would disagree strongly that Rosenfeld or doctors with other teams actually tried to talk injured players out of playing, Hayes’ remarks mesh with the mindset of most fans, who believe that the players knew the risks, accepted the risks, and disregarded their own health and safety in order to suit up and play the game they loved.

Right or wrong, plenty of jurors who show up for the concussion cases will feel the same way.

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33 Responses to “Lester Hayes says consequences of injuries are “all on the players””
  1. Steeley McBeam says: Jun 1, 2012 4:51 PM

    Ah, the way football should be played.

  2. yahmule says: Jun 1, 2012 4:53 PM

    Great analogy, except that Roman gladiators were slaves who battled to the death rather than face summary execution.

  3. Buttsnake says: Jun 1, 2012 4:53 PM

    Of course and he’s right. Goodell is trying to turn the NFL into a panzy league and all these people that have been blasting the Saints are wusses who probably have never played the game. If you want a non-contact sport, go watch beach volleyball. The NFL we grew up with has a big bounty on it and the guy who issued it has all of you fooled.

  4. Patriot42 says: Jun 1, 2012 4:54 PM

    No one is guaranteed to get through life unscathed we make choices along the way for our own reasons may they be for pleasure or not but they are our own.

  5. oldskoolchopper says: Jun 1, 2012 4:55 PM

    as a lifelong raider fan, hearing from lester the molester still gives me the chills. that dude was bad to the bone like that generation of players.

    But, they played because they loved the game. More players today play for the money than the love of the game. They know the check will come if they are injured.

    However, a retirement medical plan is something that I think the NFL and NFLPA should split 50/50 because lord knows the league makes enough money to afford it.

    It should be based on years of service to decide how much you get. Seems pretty simple really.

  6. norcalmafia says: Jun 1, 2012 4:56 PM

    Finally someone with some sense…No one kidnapped ghese guys and forced them to play football..Theyre paid for the risk..I work with high voltage every day,I have lost friends to this work..I could be killed any day but thats what I signed up for and thats why Im paid well for it..These concussion cases are stupid…

  7. medtxpack says: Jun 1, 2012 4:59 PM

    Lester has this one right in my book.

  8. blancanieve00 says: Jun 1, 2012 4:59 PM

    Thats how you do it be a man don’t blame the league cause your BROKE. Raiders Baby

  9. joetoronto says: Jun 1, 2012 5:04 PM

    Hats off to you, Lester Hayes.

    You were the best when you played and you’re still the best now.

    Raider Nation.

  10. getthegleam says: Jun 1, 2012 5:07 PM

    God bless this man, finally someone who comes out and speaks the truth. So nice as opposed to the players who point the finger at everyone else but themselves, for any shortcomings that happen in their lives.

  11. randolph32 says: Jun 1, 2012 5:14 PM

    Thanks, finally another player admits the mindset…same as most
    Fans, we just weren’t good enough.

  12. turdfurgerson68 says: Jun 1, 2012 5:17 PM

    Hey Lester guess you don’t speak with some of your former teammates to often.

    Please speak with Dave Pear ask how he’s doing…better yet why not tell him what you’re telling the rest of us.

  13. jgrange says: Jun 1, 2012 5:17 PM

    Leave it to a Raider to come out against some type of establishment let alone the players’ union. That takes some balls and Lester is 100% correct. Florio tries to discredit his views by saying it’s easy for him to say what he’s saying because he left the game unscathed. Florio never played the game nor took the risk so it’s easy for him to criticize everybody. I don’t see Florio’s logic there. Hayes took the same risks for 10 seasons and was lucky to leave unharmed. He’s one of the few who can still think clearly from the old era and, of course, his opinion should matter just as much as the guys who left the game damaged.

  14. howiehandles says: Jun 1, 2012 5:40 PM

    Easy to say when you were a cornerback. Not exactly the most collision filled of positions. Most of the players with concussion issues played positions where shots to the head happened on almost every play; LB, RB, OL, etc.

  15. mcgil38 says: Jun 1, 2012 5:56 PM

    @ howiehandles

    back in the late 70’s and early 80’s the game was much different… there was more focus put on the run than the pass… thus CB’s experienced plenty of collisions stepping up to make a tackle

  16. yssupasigninnamnotyep says: Jun 1, 2012 6:05 PM

    Finally, a voice of reason…and it’s a Raider saying it. So that just pisses you off, doesn’t it Florio? (Hence, the stick ‘em comment).

    All you bleeding hearts feeling sorry for the players…but every one of you would trade places with them in a second.

    Of course it’s all on the players. If you don’t know the risks of this violent game going in, then you are just an idiot.

  17. JSpicoli says: Jun 1, 2012 6:19 PM

    Lester was always a deep thinker and a fun articulator (“It is all about the dead Presidents” was coined by him as far as I know)

    He speaks the truth here, no matter how it bunches up the writer’s panties.

  18. JSpicoli says: Jun 1, 2012 6:22 PM

    And btw, Lester’s nickname was “The Judge”

    So this case should be closed.

  19. darthhitman77 says: Jun 1, 2012 6:26 PM

    Why should his opinion be devalued due to not having sustained any lingering injuries? Did he not take the same risks as everyone else that played? Ya know, many times when soldiers feel remorse and used they throw their medals back at the establishment. My suggestion, if it’s really that bad fellas why not throw your game checks back that ya made…didn’t think so

  20. bradentonbuc says: Jun 1, 2012 6:54 PM

    Always been pretty simple for the players. Play or do something else. Free country. How many of us would give a body part to have the ability to play at such a high level.

  21. rayguyreturns says: Jun 1, 2012 7:49 PM

    Lester was one of the great players to grow up with. Contrast him and his attitude with JaMarcus Walrus.

    We need more Lester’s and less of …well, you know.

    I think Reggie is listening.

  22. villa41 says: Jun 1, 2012 8:05 PM

    God bless Lester Hayes. A player who embodies everything good about the Raiders and football. Football is a tough sport and injuries will happen. These players are in the 1% of wage earners in this country, and I’m supposded to feel sorry for them? I’d trade places in a minute if I had that kind of ability.

    The NFL better be careful. As much as I love pro football, there will come a point when I’ll say enough if the game keeps deteriorating into glorified flag football, and I’m not alone in these thoughts.

  23. raiderrob21 says: Jun 1, 2012 8:08 PM

    MY MAN! Favorite Raider of all time. Dont discount the fact he had no major injuries. It wasnt for lack of effort. DUDE BROUGHT IT! He wasnt a Deion Sanders shying away from contact. He hit and hit hard! Lets not forget his speech disability. He improved that during his career ON the field. Tell em Lester the Molester! MY MAN!!!

    RAIDER NATION!!!!!

  24. mullman7675 says: Jun 1, 2012 8:16 PM

    Lester Hayes is a legend of the game, one of the best CBs to ever play in the NFL.

    The stick um comment was a slight jab. Every team used stick um when it was legal. Lester and Freddy B. made it famous because they were so good and they were RAIDERS.

  25. tdk24 says: Jun 1, 2012 8:22 PM

    Best.Facemask.Ever.

  26. skinsfantom says: Jun 1, 2012 9:01 PM

    howiehandles, ignorant much?

  27. AlohaMrHand says: Jun 1, 2012 9:01 PM

    Just the truth Baby

  28. deathtoromo says: Jun 1, 2012 10:02 PM

     48 44 
    Patriot42 says:
    Jun 1, 2012 4:54 PM
    No one is guaranteed to get through life unscathed we make choices along the way for our own reasons may they be for pleasure or not but they are our own.

     71 4 

    ::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

    Seriously, who gave the “thumbs down ” ont his statement haha?!

  29. bigbadal21 says: Jun 1, 2012 10:55 PM

    How does Florio know how Lester feels when he gets up in the morning or tries to climb steps etc.?

  30. mark916 says: Jun 2, 2012 1:18 AM

    The man is 57 years old, he is gonna have some aches and pains. They may or may not have anything to do with playing football. I dont recall Hayes having to have any major surgeries for injuries he sustained.

  31. torturedraiderfan says: Jun 2, 2012 10:43 AM

    When a guy gets drafted and signs an NFL contract, he’s probably already played football for about 10 years through Pop Warner, high school and college. You mean to tell me in all that time it never occured to them that when they play in the NFL they could get seriously hurt? No one put a gun to their head to sign the multi-million dollar contract. I fel bad for the guys with the concussion, but no one forced them to play or keep playing after they got hurt. So stop blaming everyone else. Guys like Lester Hayes understand it. You don’t hear Ronnie Lott complaining. No bitching from Jack Lambert. Those guys played the game the way it was meant to be played.

  32. Deb says: Jun 2, 2012 1:39 PM

    I hated Lester Hayes when he played, but believe everything he’s saying here. That doesn’t mean I don’t think the NFL has a responsibility to protect its players from themselves.

    And I would love to know what’s so obscene or inappropriate about this opinion that it needs to be censored.

  33. 1madr8r says: Jun 2, 2012 4:30 PM

    Lester “the molester” Hayes..baby! Man how I loved watching him play! Top ten all time favorite Raider of all time…just telling like it is. I have his autograph several times over. Met him in Oxnard, CA when the raiders used to train there. Loved the jeri curl he used to rock in the 80’s!! LESTER NEED TO BE IN THE HALL OF FAME ALREADY!!!

    Much luv..RAIDER NATION!

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