Dan Le Batard wrote a stunning story in the Miami Herald about the pain former Dolphins defensive end Jason Taylor endured and treated during his career.
Taylor was seen as an iron man, a six-time All-Pro and one of the few bright lights in the last decade of bad Miami teams. In the wake of Junior Seau’s suicide and subsequent diagnosis with brain damage, Taylor’s tale is all the more harrowing — especially for an NFL in crisis. Here’s a guy with model good looks, a body for movies and he almost had to have his leg amputated after a game.
Honestly the NFL has more than a crisis on its hands — even as its playoff teams deliver exciting games building toward the Super Bowl. The league has a moral obligation to its players to stop the madness. As fans everywhere celebrate Denver QB Peyton Manning’s comeback this year from four neck surgeries, and watch with awe Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis’ farewell tour, the league must make dramatic changes in the game.
You can read Taylor’s recounting to Le Batard. It’s bad enough to read it once. The emotional and physical pain he suffered to keep himself in the game is way more than anyone should expect. The account gives new meaning to the cliche that everyone has their price.
This has been the NFL’s dirty secret crisis for generations. Go back and watch or read North Dallas Forty. No doubt Sports Illustrated will begin to come out with stories about the pain and human cost of America’s sport. The NFL not only faces a lawsuit from former players, which is gaining traction with every ex-player’s suicide, but it’s churning up and spitting out players at an alarming rate, even for the NFL. [Read what I wrote last week about RGIII.]
Taylor’s experiences over 15 years cannot be unusual. He’s married to the sister of former Dolphins linebacker Zach Thomas, another of their generation’s most ferocious tacklers. What’s a Taylor-Thomas family reunion going to be like 10 years from now at the rate of injury and pain they’ve surely suffered?
If the NFL were a factory, to which it’s often compared [especially when it's rookie job fair is called a combine], OSHA would lock it closed. Employees in no other industry could be legally abused or self-abused as Taylor was with the factory continuing to do business.
Media are finally coming around to the reality of the game. Like reporters generations ago who would never write or broadcast what they knew about philandering presidents like Roosevelt, Eisenhower and Kennedy, we’re seeing a change. Media realize now that they have a responsibility — to the players and the truth — to stop some of the myth-making and look at the cost to these men.
It’s coming none too soon. Congressional hearings can’t be far off. In the meantime, you can believe that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has this crisis, this carnage, atop his to-do list.
Here, in Le Batard’s precise words, is the challenge:
As America’s most popular sport encounters a liability problem … as gladiator Junior Seau kills himself with a shotgun blast to the chest and leaves his damaged brain to study … as awareness and penalties increase around an NFL commissioner confronting the oxymoronic task of making a violent game safe … and as the rules change but the culture really doesn’t … we think we know this forever-growing monster we are cheering on Sundays. But we don’t. We have no earthly idea.
The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the Northeast and Southeast. Learn more about EMA at http://www.mower.com. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.