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Posted at 11:46 AM ET, 05/30/2012

It’s a harsh world out there, and not just in the NFL


Browns’ linebacker Scott Fujita intercepts a pass in a November game as Rams’ guard Jacob Bell closes in. (Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
In the last month, Cincinnati Bengals offensive lineman Jacob Bell, 31, and former Ohio State University linebacker Andrew Sweat, 23, who had signed a free-agent contract with the Browns, announced they were quitting football because of concussion concerns.

I’m of the firm belief that every person has the right to make his own decisions, for his own reasons. I’m not judging these two athletes but I do have an opinion.

I think it’s almost laughable for a professional football player who would be going into his ninth season and has signed a hefty deal in the past to say, abruptly, that he is done with football because of concerns about concussions.

I feel the same way about Sweat, a kid who says he already has been feeling depressed and chose to go to law school rather than try out for the Browns.

I may appear insensitive about the seriousness of the concussion epidemic in pro football, but I assure you that’s not the case. As a matter of fact, I know guys who had to retire because of the frequency of their concussions. It’s a very real injury, but a new one it is not.

Jacob Bell played for eight years. In the NFL, that’s a full career. A guy is supposed to be thinking about his future after football long before Year 8. If he is just now thinking about his future health as he starts his ninth year in the league, that’s a sad commentary on his planning. I think it’s a bit strange that a football player would offer concussions as the reason for leaving the game.

At this point, it’s impossible to be oblivious to the impact concussions will have on your life after football.

I can understand guys not being aware of all the effects of such injuries, and I can understand the dozens of lawsuits that have been filed by former players who feel the NFL looked the other way when they complained of headaches and the impact of concussions. I get it.

But if your health is a true concern, then all the injuries you’ve witnessed in practice and games should have brought this to your attention long ago. When Bell tore his ACL, that should’ve been when he called it quits.

As for Sweat, if he was already feeling depressed, I’m sure that depression accompanied him every time he ran out into the Horseshoe, as well as all through school. It couldn’t be anything else that was going on in his life. Nope, it had to be football.

The problem I have with guys suddenly leaving the game this way is not their desire to protect themselves, but their sudden realization about the dangers of the game.

Why does this offense seem personal? It is personal; in my opinion, these are insults to the intelligence of football players.

It bothers me that a guy who might have made an NFL roster says he’s choosing law school because of his fear of concussions. If he took this long to figure out that concussions (and other injuries) have long-lasting impacts on his body, he needs to go back through a different education system before going into law.

As for Bell, after eight years of playing, just retire. I think it’s outright irresponsible to cite Junior Seau’s death as one factor in his decision. I think it’s disrespectful to immediately point to concussions and football as the reason for Junior’s suicide. We may never know the reasons why he killed himself; unlike others, he apparently did not tell us what was going on. So stop making up your own reasons.

Doctors who may study his brain and the brains of other suicide victims will make discoveries that I hope will lead to treatments for the long-term effects of concussions.

If you don’t want to play football, don’t play. If you don’t want your children to play, that’s fine too. Football has never been a game for everyone and it never will be.

Changes to the game are certainly needed. The NFL must own up to the fact that concussions can, and have, altered how men live after their time in the game is over. Football skills, such as proper tackling, need to be taught better as well.

Without football, many people would have had no chance for success, the camaraderie and wonderful experience of being on a team, respect, admiration and exposure. Have we forgotten that? Does it not matter anymore? My football experiences have enhanced my life in so many ways and I would never trade them for anything.

One of those benefits is being able to walk away and retire after eight years of work at the age of 31. Another is the opportunity to get into law school. Ask someone who has a nine to five job who will work until he dies, or a lawyer trying to repay his student loans. It’s a harsh world out there. It just comes down to which realities you are willing to face.

More on pro football and concussions:

Hard Hits: Disbelief at Junior Seau’s passing

Reid: Seau’s death poses uncomfortable questions for fans

Wise: NFL culture of killing the head

By  |  11:46 AM ET, 05/30/2012

 
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