Hall of Famer Lem Barney wishes he’d never played football

Lem Barney, a Pro Football Hall of Famer who is one of the scores of former players suing the NFL over brain injuries, says that he now regrets ever playing football at all.

“If I look at the game now and I look back on it retrospectively, if I had another choice I’d never played the game, at all, in my life,” Barney told the Detroit Free Press. “Never. Never. From all-city, all-state, all-conference, all-American, seven times All-Pro, I’m in eight Hall of Fames, it wouldn’t be. It would be golf or tennis. I’m serious. Very serious.”

Surprisingly, Barney says that even though, at the age of 66, he says his health is relatively good. He said he has nerve conditions that cause tingling sensations and prevent him from sleeping more than three or four hours a night, but he can still work full time and is healthier than many of his former teammates.

“I call it blessed,” Barney said of his health. “It’s that type of game. It’s a lethal game. Again, as I tell people, ‘Do you miss the game, Lem?’ And sincerely, I don’t miss the game.”

Barney, who played for the Lions from 1967 to 1977, says no one ever diagnosed him with a concussion while he was playing, because back then players didn’t have doctors looking for concussions. But Barney now believes he had seven or eight concussions. And to him, even the glory of a Hall of Fame career wasn’t worth it.

78 responses to “Hall of Famer Lem Barney wishes he’d never played football

  1. This is why he wasn’t a Steeler. Only giants among men bath in our glory. Whoa

  2. As opposed to all the other 66 year olds who never played pro football and are in great hwalth with no leg or babk pain and no memory loss.

    From what i hear, it sucks getting old…. It even hurts. Whether u played football or not.

  3. Most people with low paying factory jobs die ten years earlier than Higher paying office jobs employees. You dont hear them complain cause that’s life.


  4. Sometimes I wish obama was never elected but it happened and many at the time thought it was a great idea. So you also thought it was a good idea to play football at the time.

  5. A bit dramatic, eh Lem?

    Even though Docs weren’t looking for concussions, are you saying that it takes ‘retrospect’ to see that the game can be violent?

    So you couldn’t tell that during your ‘all-city, all-state, all-conference, all-American, seven times All-Pro’ career?

    C’mon Lem, you and these other players are smarter than that. THE issue is – ‘We didn’t make enough back then to NOT have to work afterward’.

    I’m not callous to injuries, but seeing people not take personal responsibility for their decisions sickens me. Blame others to get paid.

  6. Not only was the game really unsafe back then BUT these guys played for bread crumbs compared to today’s salaries……love that they paved the way for the modern game tho…..Thanks old timers HTTR.

  7. Neighborhood football was fun but this collision/injury stuff? forget it, I want my health over money. I have a bad pinky from “flag” football for pete’s sake. ha. Plus, like 1 in 10,000 guys makes it to the nfl anyways. The name “combine” means more of a chewing up and spitting out of football players to me than this dictionary.com meaning…a harvesting machine for cutting and threshing grain in the field.

  8. …and that he wasn’t named “Lem Barney.” Sounds like Wink Martindale’s replacement on Tic Tac Dough.

    Seriously, though…hope he continues to enjoy good health.

  9. Lem,
    With all due respect, YOU made the decision every Sunday to suit up and go out there and play. Nobody held a gun to your head. At the time you probably loved every minute of it.

    Some of us did not have a choice in what we did between 1967 and 1974. It was call the military draft and Vietnam. Wanna trade places?

  10. If I had another choice I wouldn’t have married my ex. See….we can all do that.

  11. He might be being totally honest when he says this. But whenever there’s money involved (lawsuit) I take it with a grain of salt. Has he been saying this for years…or only now that there’s a lawsuit? If his health is fine, it seems a little dramatic to say such a thing.

  12. As a former season ticket holder in Green Bay, now living in Michigan, I saw Lem Barney play many times. He was one of the greatest and my only regret was that he wasn’t wearing a Packer uniform.

    I wish you well, my friend.

  13. I asked my late aunt if she watched nfl games. She said that she didn’t wanna watch a sport where young men get injured. She’s right. So why do I continue to watch it then? I say much of it is fine, the james harrison’s have to be rooted out. He has done more damage to players BY HIMSELF I bet than the whole saints defense combined I bet.

  14. That being said, the pay back then was night & day to what they’re making now. Now below-average players are making millions; I don’t see why they can’t increase the pensions for the old-timers.

  15. Give me a break, didn’t take long for the sour-grapes, it’s-not-fair-they-make-so-much-money crowd to start jumping on the bandwagon.

    Guys like this are going to ruin it for the legitimate sue-ers.

  16. At 66 he seems pretty sharp minded for having 8 concussions and only sleeping three to 4 hours a night.

    I call it blessed Barney said. I have to agree because I know people at 66 that have not had a single concussion and can not remember my name or the people most closet to them there entire live.

    He said he wished he would not have never played I guess we will never know that but I do find it hard to believe someone that had a love for the game passing it up and maybe working an office job or a construction job regardless of what they knew.

  17. Litigation, or the fear of it, is going to reshaped professional football. The 70s and 80’s will been seen as the golden era of the NFL.

  18. I met Mr Barney aprox. 20 years ago at a Lee Elder celebrity golf tournament. I can recall him being a gentleman but a man’s man nonetheless. I’ve met many former NFL players and he was as formidable as they come….the man seemed very proud of his career then. All I can say is that, “If Lem Barney talks, people should listen.”

  19. Sorry for his regrets but players of that era played a harder game than todays wussies. He was what made the game it is today. The money and limelight was what attracts players today and during his time the money was still pretty damn good compared to the average Joe and he did very well. There are lots of jobs I wish I not done in my time and never made the money he did. These players know the risk of playing Pro ball but nowhere in America can you make that kind of money for 16 weeks of having the fun like they do.We all have regrets but life goes on. I have the same physical problems and I never played a down at 65 years of age and would have done anything to played Pro Ball.

  20. The game didn’t make Barney insanely wealthy. There wasnt the opportunity to act like a complete a fool as an ‘analyst’ and to get paid for it like today’s players.

    Football is great game, but nothing is worth a lifetime of pain.

  21. I bet many 66 year old’s would love for the only health problem is a little nerve tingling. Give me a break this guys a joke just trying to jump on the suing bandwagon to make a few bucks

  22. He has the same symptoms I have and I never played football. However, my doctor calls it diabetes.

  23. steelernationsparksjealousy says:
    Mar 24, 2012 9:23 AM
    This is why he wasn’t a Steeler. Only giants among men bath in our glory. Whoa

    Yeah,Tell that to Mike Websters family.

  24. If the ex-player making the statement is involved in the lawsuit then you have to take what they say with a very large grain of salt.

    They’ve got a financial stake it it.

  25. How many people have died playing football or afterwards? It is not as dangerous of these less lucrative jobs?

    -Fisherman (enjoy that crab NFL players)
    -Logger (116 per every 100,000 workers die on the job)
    -Coal Miner
    -Farmer/ Rancher
    -Even general construction labor is more dangerous than the NFL (15.6/100,000 die on the job. 193 fatalities in 2010). This does include the life long damage these guys do to their bodies.

    And none of these jobs get the glory of playing in the NFL. Many aren’t even doing what they love.

  26. I feel we have to respect the opinion of a man with his career resume…..he is, however, the first one with HOF’ers credentials I’ve heard say this, with

  27. Awwww boo hoo my grandpa was in the same condition and he’s never Played. There’s a lot of things that have changed since the 60s back then they just didn’t know.

  28. Not surprising. I would imagine that back in the day there were probably a lot of dead gladiators who would have also liked a chance at a re-do. There is a high price to be paid, both in terms of broken teeth and bones, and in ticket prices to seem them get broken.

  29. I have a pinched nerve in two locations in my spine with one cause sciatica down my left leg. The left leg often has a weakness which prevents decent play in tennis which is my favorite sport. I never played a down of organized football in my life. I too have trouble sleeping through the night but it is because of worry over money.

    The NFL is a great life if you live within your means, and pay attention to your body. If you think you are overdoing it QUIT. As for “I wish I had chosen career xyz, instead”, reminds me of the doctors who are paupers because their practice only cranks out 200k profit instead of the 250k a few years ago, and they muse that they should have gone into xyz career instead like they were certain to be successful there. Big assumption.

  30. Lets say theirs 2000 players in the NFL. If the NFL was as dangerous as logging then just over 2 players would die each season. The usually die from large objects falling on their heads. The ones who don’t die tend to suffer concussions and many health problems later in life.

    Average NFL Salary (2010-2011): $1.9 million
    Average Salary for a Logger (2011) : $35,470

    So what would you have done if you wern’t lucky enough to be one of the best athletes in world? Would you have had to work for a living doing whatever paid the bills? Are you sure that would have been any safer? Would you have the luxury and outlet now to voice these health problems?

  31. I’m a welder and I know the welding fumes that I sometimes breath are not good for me and will take years off my life. I’m 36 and sometimes my back hurts from lifting steel. My boss doesn’t have to tell me that my job is dangerous and could have long lasting consequences. It’s COMMON SENSE. If two guys are crashing into each other and it hurts and sometimes makes you dizzy then it’s probably not good. COMMON SENSE. Take responsibility for yourself. Scrub.

  32. Not sure how much money his NFL pension is but OJ Simpson played back in that day and his was 25 grand a month in 2006 and moved up to like 30 grand a month now.

    Wiki info is wrong saying the Goldman family was trying to get OJ’s 28,000 A year NFL pension which should actually read 25 grand a month in 2006 but they could not touch his pension.

    My point any job Barney would have took or any of them back then the amount of money they make from their pensions alone in a year would have been about the money a normal persons pension would be for a life time.

    Barney can say what he wants because he has a great pension but I guarantee if that was not the case and he had a construction pension at lets say 1500 a month he would be singing a whole different tune. We all would………………………….

  33. What else is far more dangerous than playing NFL football? Driving cars!!!!

    That’s right driving a taxi is a more dangerous job than playing in the NFL. Of every 100,000 cab drivers, 16.1 dies in a fatal accident. 45 cab drivers dead in 2010 alone.

    Average pay: less than $30,0000
    NFL pay: 1.9 million

    Do they all want to be cab drivers? No, but they didn’t have the luxury of making money doing what they love.

  34. Wow. Seeing a lot negative comments.

    I think Barney’s point here is that not everything that glitters is gold. For those who don’t play, being a professional football player appears to be the greatest thing in the world.

    Barney is saying maybe that’s not entirely true.

    Okay, back to the bitterness…

  35. I’m 56. I wake up every morning with back pain and have to stretch out for 20 minutes before I feel half way normal. Even then I have pain down my legs and pop Vicodin all day. All from working 30 years as a Tool & Die Maker. I wish I’d never been a Tool & Die Maker. I wish I’d played pro football.
    Who can I sue? Life’s a bitch Lem. You make choices. Live with them.

  36. Jim Harbaugh, Ronnie Lott, Joe Montana…they all walk with a slight limp, from the game undoubtedly, yet they all still love ball. Ask all of Harbaugh’s players…he wishes he could suit up.

    My dad is 66, never played ball, and has all kinds of trouble; getting old sucks.

    I will admit though that organized football is way different from street ball for those of you that never played. I hated being a linemen, hitting sleds and each other all day. Never got concussed and never had a better workout.

  37. Isn’t it a bit odd that anytime a lawsuit is ongoing the people involved say the right things to enhance there status with the suit……….of course he would never had played football, with a multi million suit ongoing. OF COURSE all the old timers with issues will sue because they didn’t have the $ being made by todays players. Sad on all levels. There are a few old guys that respect the game and knew the risks. SURE they will say we didn’t know this..or we didn’t know that… BUT football, boxing have risks because you get hit in the HEAD!!!!!!!

  38. mrlaloosh says: Mar 24, 2012 9:41 AM

    Wow! You’re 66 and have nerves tingling.? Welcome to my world.



    And my world as well at the “young” age of 53.

    But thanks to Lem for some great NFL memories.

  39. As per usual, anybody daring to criticize the NFL machine, even someone intimately knowledgable of the inner workings, is met with derision and defensiveness by a huge percentage of fans. Reality is an unwelcome intrusion into the way people want things to be, so they respond with ridicule. This mindset is developed beginning in grade school where true historical fact is sacrificed upon the altar of American exceptionalism.

  40. steelernationsparksjealousy —

    Who are you kidding? Your entire offensive line helped win 4 Super Bowls while they were all using steroids. The only franchise to ever cheat “en masse” like that. The Bengals strength coach at the time refused to put his team on PED’s back then even though it made him very angry and also gave the Steelers a competitive edge.

    Look at that offensive line now – they’re either dead, close to it or disabled to a certain degree. Did it take real MEN to take steroids? How do these MEN like it now?

  41. He saw people suffer devastating injuries as a rookie, and kept playing. He saw people suffer devastating injuries his next year, and kept playing. He saw people suffer devastating injuries in his third year, and kept playing. And so on.

    Sorry, Lem. I know you said all this so your lawyer would have a great opening statement, but to quote that noted philosopher Shania Twain, that don’t impress me much.

  42. Every athlete has selective memory as to the opportunities that were presented to him. In all honesty, if Lem hadn’t played football, he’d be asking someone this very minute “would you like fries with that?”

  43. I turned 66 this week. I only played football one year in high school and spent most of my life as a desk worker. I feel like I took pretty good care of myself, but I wish that I was able to work full time. I knew dozens of guys, who never experienced a concussion, who are either gone or might as well be. Lem Barney, as great a football player that he was, is an idiot.

  44. Lem, you were a hell of a player and you’re a fine human being, but really – all of the players went into it with their eyes open. Maybe you all should have been coal miners – this way you would have had “black lung” disease and your pension stolen by your union.

  45. The bottom line, Nobody twisted his arm to play. When it was good, the bright lights, Cigars, Women, and money better then the average worker, there was no complaints than.

    You choosed to PLAY.

  46. Why is it that NFL fans, way more than any other pro sports fans, actively hate the stars and players of the past so much? Why do NFL fans insist on comparing football to military service? Why do they denigrate the accomplishments of players from the past so frequently? Why does it upset them so whenever a retired players says something negative about the sport? My opinion: the vast majority of NFL fans are knuckle-dragging, mouth-breathing, overly-reactionary simpletons incapable of grasping any concepts beyond, “duh-uh-uh, he score a touchdown! Yay!”. Especially 90% of the fans here.

  47. You would be irrelevant if it weren’t for the NFL. Just because you are broke now and didn’t manage your money don’t say you would’ve never done the best part of your life. Anyone of these people would love the chance to play in the NFL. Oh and the guy about the factory workers is right!

  48. I am shocked, actually. Lem, along with Bill Freehan and now Mayor of Detroit Dave Bing were my first sports heroes….and Lem Barney has always been as far as I remember a guy in support of his experience, at least as far as supporting the Lions organization. And like the other two gentleman above (one of whom isn’t in his HOF…travesty) is a class act through and through.

    To find this out now is shocking….one thing we all do (or should do) is over time re-evaluate our held positions and beliefs based on new information…if that’s what this is…then bravo.

    He was essentially Deion Sanders that could tackle….huge in the return game, nose for the end zone, shutdown corner that no one threw at after the first few years of his career….plus he hit people hard….likely had the best rookie season a DB ever had….I hope he continues to enjoy good health and the league supports a way to assist the former players with medical issues….

  49. To the guy that said, “that’s why he wasn’t a Steeler…”, the Steelers were probably the worst franchise in Pro Football during the majority of Barney’s career. Only at the end of his his playing days did that putrid organization start to become what we know today. Check your history young man. PS, karma’a coming for you.

  50. Stop it. Just trying to get sympathy for his lawsuit. The 25 year old Barney would have called the 66-year old an old geezer that needed to shut up. Really, how many players today that know all about the risks are retiring at 24 voluntarily? None.

  51. But would he play in this day in age, is the better question? The money, Doctors and rule changes have improved over his time.

  52. If Barney could play today he would. He would be no different than all the other guys today. They no the risks and yet they play. It’s all about the money and the game. None of them are thinking anything about their future health.

  53. So true Lem. Playing football is a bad idea. I feel bad for the old timers who didn’t even make great money. Now they struggle with health issues.

    We were taught that tough hard nose football was great. Now we see that it kills people.

  54. We all regret a few things. If a hall of fame career is your regret, consider yourself lucky. Plenty of 66 year olds who never played football have worse health than lem barney.

  55. Some of us did not have a choice in what we did between 1967 and 1974. It was call the military draft and Vietnam. Wanna trade places?

    Wonder who the 31 morons are who gave this a thumbs down……

  56. Pretty strong statement he sounds like he is very very serious. The years take their toll on the body you play now but pay later. Hope his and many others health remains good for many more years.

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