Absolutely not, he said.
“You’re damned right I’d do it all over again,” he told me at the time. “I was a poor kid from the backwoods of Louisiana, and now I’ve given my wife and kids security for the rest of their lives. I know I’m going to have problems from football. But I accept that. I have no regrets. None whatsoever.”
The game had allowed him to graduate from Louisiana Tech, earn a good living and escape the destitution of his native Lafourche Parish. After football, he moved to Baton Rouge, opened a successful seafood restaurant — the Galley — and raised his family. Most former players I’ve spoken to over the years view their playing days in the same way.
I covered the NFL over four decades dating back to 1972. Now semi-retired myself and five years removed from day-to-day football coverage, I have one main regret: not focusing more of my reporting and writing on the absolute brutality of the sport, particularly the painful post-football lives of so many players.
Instead, like many other sports journalists, I spent much of my career writing positive pieces about the league and its players — puffy features and breathless accounts of thrilling victories and agonizing defeats. I certainly covered my share of serious NFL warts: mounting injuries; the use of steroids and amphetamines; team doctors prescribing far too many painkilling pills and injections; the derogatory Redskins name; and, for many years, the dearth of African American quarterbacks, head coaches and front-office personnel. But until the past decade or so, most of us glossed over the brutality of the sport. Shame on us.
Some believe that a CBS documentary, “The Violent World of Sam Huff,” first aired in 1960, may have sparked the popularity of professional football. Huff was a celebrated New York Giants linebacker halfway through a Hall of Fame career at the time, and the documentary gave viewers an up-close look at the sound and fury of the pro game, using mini-microphones to pick up trash talk and the high-decibel thump of body against body, helmet against helmet.
Half a century later, a highlight-driven sports culture, fueled by ESPN’s “SportsCenter” and YouTube clips, has increased the emphasis on Big Hits — the wicked shots heard ’round the football world.
“I think that may have been true six to eight years ago,” ESPN coordinating producer Dwayne Bray said of this culture during a public forum in August on violence in the game. “I think we’ve been very restrained on the issue. If there are hard hits, we report the news. . . . I think even as the NFL and the parents are being educated, ESPN and other media entities are being educated.”