Football is a game of brute force, high intensity, prolonged passion, and all-out aggression – at any level of competition. There is no legitimate way to soften such a hard game unless you’re playing two-hand-touch or flag football. The football field is an unmerciful place where boys quickly become men and must soon adapt to their surroundings or sooner surrender to the harsh realities of life on the gridiron. The weak and the worrisome are no longer welcomed by those strong enough to survive.
For any young man who plays football, the dream is always the same: to play in the National Football League – where the best come to play. Nobody grows up wanting to play in a Canadian or European football league. These young pigskin dreamers are striving for the mountaintop, not the valley below.
If you take an in-depth look at any professional sport, you will find that each has its own scale of ugliness but football could very well top that scale. The life of a football player could be a brutal and belligerent existence.
The United States is unquestionably the most fanatical country when it comes to football. To many Americans, a football field is just as sacred as a church. Sunday’s are not just for the Lord but for glorified beasts and attempts at slaughter.
Football players are often afforded special privileges in high school and at the university level. This kind of lure is enough for young men to take a less serious approach towards their education as they become swept up in the promise of NFL greatness – a sad circumstance for optimistic youth.
The uneducated mind is left to wander in a world of loathing and laughter when football dreams fall through and there is nothing one can do about it because all hope was placed squarely on shoulder-pads. What becomes of such a football player?
Then there are those who achieve the dream – make the NFL and become a star only to disgrace themselves with violent acts and misappropriate behavior. The years of pampered bliss have become far too common thus clouding the thoughts of common sense.
Of course, there are those who suffer from their years of football prowess and not just physically but emotionally and psychologically as well. The hits come hard and leave a lasting effect on many players who graced the gridiron.
In the following article we will take a look at some sad situations that have made headlines, become horror stories, caused heartache, and some that even inspired. However, of all the stories being told, each is marred with the same underlining themes: sadness and professional football.
10. Ray Rice and Domestic Abuse
Unless you are oblivious to social media or do not own a television, then you have seen the TMZ video of Ray Rice knocking out his then-fiance (now wife) in an elevator before dragging her limp body out across the floor. The surfacing of this video has lead to Ray Rice being released form the Baltimore Ravens and suspended indefinitely by the NFL. The backlash from this incident has caused the league to toughen its sanctions on players who commit domestic violence. The saddest part of this story may be the fact that Rice’s wife came to the defense of her heavy-handed husband thus perpetuating the notion that it’s all right for men to hit women.
9. Michael Vick Fighting Dogs
The blood sport of dog fighting is a disgusting and barbaric activity in which lowlife owners pit two helpless canines against one another in a fight. The losing dog is usually killed – if not by his opponent then by his master following the fight. In 2007, Michael Vick, then quarterback of the Atlanta Falcon,s was charged with operating an unlawful dog fighting operation known as “Bad Newz Kennels.” Vick would plead guilty to these charges and admit that he participated in the destruction of at least six to eight dogs. Due to his involvement in this horrific practice, Vick was suspended from the NFL and sentenced to twenty-three months in federal prison. Vick, who is still an active member of the NFL, claims to have learned the error of his ways and has been active in trying to educate young adults, so that they don’t make the same mistakes as he did.
8. O.J. Murdock Commits Suicide
On the morning of July 30th, 2012, O.J. Murdock drove his car to his old high school and parked near the football field where he once excelled as a wide receiver. Murdock was supposed to be in Nashville at the Tennessee Titans training camp – the upcoming season was to be his first professional year. While sitting in his car, Murdock called his former middle school track-and-field coach to whom he was expressing his love and apologizing. When he informed his former coach of his whereabouts, she immediately got in her car and drove to the high school where she found Murdock with a self-inflicted gunshot wound. He was rushed to the hospital but pronounced dead soon after. O.J. Murdock was only twenty-five-years young.
7. Mike Webster Suffers Brain Damage
“Iron Mike” Webster is considered by many to be the best offensive center in NFL history, having anchored the Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line through their four Super Bowl runs in the seventies. Although his time playing professional football was a success, his post-football life was riddled with trauma. Webster suffered from amnesia, dementia, and depressions as well as acute bone and muscle pain – all of this stemming from his relentless days on the field. Webster was diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy which is a neurodegenerative disease. Webster died in 2002 at the age of fifty and was the first former NFL player to be diagnosed with CTE. Mike Webster has since become a symbol of head injuries and professional football and with leagues placing more emphasize on player safety, hopefully far less players will have to suffer through these terrible ailments.
6. Junior Seau Takes His Own Life
The effects of CTE will once again rear their ugly head in the story of Junior Seau. The former linebacker was known for his passionate play and if you ever watched him take the field it was evident that Seau was a man full of outright emotion. However, his passion for life would soon falter and fade as Seau decided to take his own life on May 2nd, 2012 by way of gunshot to the chest. When his girlfriend found his body, there was no formal suicide note but instead a piece of paper with scribbled lyrics of his favorite country song, “Who I Ain’t” (The song depicts a man who regrets all that he has become). While his suicide was unexpected, the expected result was that of brain injury caused by definite signs of CTE found is his brain.
T5. Stone Johnson Fractures his Vertebra
Stone Johnson played for the Kansas City Chiefs back when they were part of the American Football League and before the merger with the NFL. Johnson was a gifted sprinter and who competed in the 1960 Summer Olympic in Rome. In 1963, Johnson would embark on his rookie season as a member of the Chiefs. Unfortunately, he would never play a regular season game. Johnson suffered a fractured vertebra in his neck during a preseason game against the Houston Oilers during a kickoff return. The twenty-three-year-old would not recover and died ten days later. Although only an active member of the preseason roster, the Kansas City Chiefs would retire his jersey. (#33)
T5. Howard Glenn Breaks his Neck
The story of Howard Glenn is much like the story of Stone Johnson. Glenn, like Johnson, played in the American Football League as a member of the New York Titans. Glenn was an offensive guard who suited up in 1960 for the inaugural AFL season and unlike Stone Johnson, Howard Glenn was fortunate enough to play in a few regular season games that year. However, during a game against the Houston Oilers – the same team who Johnson played his final game against – Glenn would suffer a broken neck on the field. He died later that day at the age of twenty-six.
4. Jovan Belcher Commits Murder-Suicide
The tale of former Kansas City Chiefs linebacker, Jovan Belcher, is a tale of tremendous sadness. In the early morning hours of December 1st, 2012, Belcher fatally shot his girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins, in front of his own mother before fleeing the scene and driving to the Kansas City Chiefs practice facility where he was encountered by general manager Scott Pioli and other team officials. Pleas for Belcher to drop his weapon were gone unheard as he would ultimately turn the gun on himself, ending his own life. Belcher and Perkins were the parents of a three-year-old daughter who is now left behind without a mother and father.
3. Ernie Davis Never Plays in the NFL
Ernie Davis made history by becoming the first African-American football player to win the Heisman Trophy in 1961. Davis was drafted 1st overall in the 1962 NFL Draft by the Washington Redskins but was immediately traded to the Cleveland Browns. Davis was set to be a star running back in the NFL but would never play a professional game. Davis was diagnosed with leukemia and his promising life and career was cut short at the age of twenty-three. Ernie Davis was supposed to be an NFL success and had he not fallen ill could have very well gone on to be one of the greatest running backs of all time.
2. Adrian Peterson and His Sons
Last year, Adrian Peterson’s son was the subject of physical abuse from his mother’s boyfriend – abuse that lead to the child’s death. Peterson had only learned about the child a few weeks prior to the incident, unaware that he was the father. In another case involving a son of Peterson, the Minnesota Vikings running back has been charged with child abuse on the count of disciplinary action he took towards the four-year-old boy. Disturbing photos were released of the young boys legs which are covered in cuts from whippings administered by Peterson. The sad outcomes for these young boys serves as a reminder of the unnecessary discipline of children in modern society – get with the times because your father’s ways are wrong. Progression is the only direction.
1. Pat Tillman: American Hero
The story of Patrick Daniel Tillman is not only the saddest on this list but also the most noble. Tillman was by all accounts living a comfortable life playing professional football (compared to war, anything else is comfort) until he enlisted in the United States Army in June of 2002 following the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks. Tillman was killed in combat on April 22nd, 2004 at the age of twenty-seven while serving in Afghanistan. The bravery of man who is willing to step off of the football field and onto the battlefield of war is a bravery that cannot be judge by any of us who live freely in our digital worlds. Pat Tillman fought and died for his country – a soldier until the end and a true American hero.
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