Pulling back the curtain on pain

  • Article by: DAN WIEDERER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 22, 2012 - 6:34 AM

Troubling dangers associated with playing football have come to the surface in recent years as the NFL attempts to heighten player safety and a flood of former players have expressed concerns about the culture. Still, for the casual fan, there's plenty that remains unseen in the NFL culture. The Star Tribune asked a handful of current and past players to help us pull back the curtain.


Following a 13-year NFL career as a long snapper that ended in 1999, Mike Morris is still in relatively good shape, a fitness enthusiast who has chronic aches and pains but few significant impairments that affect his everyday well-being. Still, Morris, now 51, is convinced he took too many hits to the head and played through his fair share of concussions. Increasingly, the scary moments are adding up. Such as when he has a 20-minute brain lapse and can't remember his brother's name. Or when he'll try to sign checks and frequently hit a road block. "It's the same letter in my name -- the 'e' in Michael -- that gets me every time," Morris said. "I have to stop and make it slow or I'm not going to make it." Still, Morris loves football and believes all players understand the risks. "If you don't want to feel the pain, if you don't want concussions, don't play football," he said. "Because that's what you're signing up for. ... You sign a contract with the devil and hope that God's on the other side."


As the NFL continues its movement to make the game safer -- with a firm push from the players association and pressure building from a tsunami of litigation -- the league will have to address the undeniable humanitarian need to take care of its players while still preserving its brand as a sport beloved for its big hits, grit and nastiness. Thirteen years removed from his playing days, Hall of Fame defensive end Chris Doleman worries that too many safety-oriented changes will soften the game. "There is a certain raw toughness about football," he said. "That is what it is. People didn't like [former Steelers great] Jack Lambert because he was cute. He looked like a fight."


Over the past half-decade, the NFL has made an accelerated push to make the game safer with many in and around the league calling for greater player education. Players need to learn more about the long-term bodily damage they are subjecting themselves to. They need to understand more about the drugs they use to treat their pain. They need to figure out safer ways to retain their macho aura without being reckless with their health. Says former Pro Bowl receiver Torry Holt: "We are built and taught to fight through pain to go out there and play. I see it now with my son. It's, 'Get up. Ain't nothing wrong with you. Put some ice on it and let's get back up and running.' That's the way it is. But I think we're being challenged to think smarter." Still, even with increasing awareness, expecting players to change their ways may be a Pollyannaish goal. Said former NFL defensive back Solomon Wilcots: "You can hear it when you do interviews with players. 'OK, if you can take something now that will keep you on the field knowing that it will harm you later, would you still use it?' They say, 'Yeah. Absolutely.' So even if you educate them, they will run the red light knowingly."


Certainly, it'd be disingenuous to assert painkiller use is new in the NFL or even on the rise.

Walter Payton's biography, "Sweetness: The Enigmatic Life of Walter Payton" by Jeff Pearlman, details the Hall of Fame running back's Vicodin dependency, with Payton's agent contending the running back "would eat them as if they were a snack." Payton played 13 seasons in Chicago, missing only one game -- in Week 5 of his rookie year. He died in 1999, at 45, from a rare autoimmune liver disease.

In addition, it's been 16 years now since Brett Favre, then 26 and entering his fifth season in Green Bay, publicly acknowledged his addiction to Vicodin, a high-profile admission that brought attention to the issue, albeit temporarily. Favre spent a month-and-a-half in a Topeka rehab facility that year.

More recently, players like Kyle Turley, an offensive lineman in the league from 1998-2007, have been open about their own problems. Turley acknowledges that he still needs Vicodin and Flexeril and other sleep medications to deal with his pain. He also contends that such drugs weren't difficult to get during his time in the league.


  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions


New Orleans 28 FINAL
Carolina 10
Tampa Bay 11/2/14 12:00 PM
Arizona 11/2/14 12:00 PM
Philadelphia 11/2/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets 11/2/14 12:00 PM
Kansas City
Jacksonville 11/2/14 12:00 PM
San Diego 11/2/14 12:00 PM
Washington 11/2/14 12:00 PM
St. Louis 11/2/14 3:05 PM
San Francisco
Denver 11/2/14 3:25 PM
New England
Oakland 11/2/14 3:25 PM
Baltimore 11/2/14 7:30 PM
Indianapolis 11/3/14 7:30 PM
NY Giants
Washington 105 FINAL
Orlando 98
Detroit 91 FINAL
Minnesota 97
New York 95 FINAL
Cleveland 90
Utah 102 FINAL
Dallas 120
Oklahoma City 90 FINAL
LA Clippers 93
Boston 3 FINAL(OT)
Buffalo 2
Winnipeg 1 FINAL(SO)
New Jersey 2
Los Angeles 0 FINAL
Pittsburgh 3
Chicago 5 FINAL(SO)
Ottawa 4
Philadelphia 3 FINAL
Tampa Bay 4
Arizona 1 FINAL
Florida 2
San Jose 3 FINAL(SO)
Minnesota 4
Anaheim 0 FINAL
St. Louis 2
NY Islanders 0 FINAL
Colorado 5
Montreal 2 FINAL(OT)
Vancouver 3
(2) Florida State 42 FINAL
Louisville 31
Troy 10 FINAL
Ga Southern 42
Cincinnati 7:00 PM
Tulsa 7:02 PM
Air Force 11/1/14 10:30 AM
ULM 11/1/14 11:00 AM
Texas A&M
(19) Oklahoma 11/1/14 11:00 AM
Iowa State
Northwestern 11/1/14 11:00 AM
(24) Duke 11/1/14 11:00 AM
Maryland 11/1/14 11:00 AM
Penn State
Wisconsin 11/1/14 11:00 AM
Rice 11/1/14 11:00 AM
(21) East Carolina 11/1/14 11:00 AM
UCF 11/1/14 11:00 AM
Boston College 11/1/14 11:30 AM
Virginia Tech
North Carolina 11/1/14 11:30 AM
Washington 11/1/14 12:00 PM
Central Mich 11/1/14 12:00 PM
Eastern Mich
Western Mich 11/1/14 1:30 PM
Western Ky 11/1/14 2:00 PM
Louisiana Tech
NC State 11/1/14 2:00 PM
Virginia 11/1/14 2:30 PM
Georgia Tech
Purdue 11/1/14 2:30 PM
(17) Nebraska
BYU 11/1/14 2:30 PM
Middle Tennessee
(10) TCU 11/1/14 2:30 PM
(20) West Virginia
Indiana 11/1/14 2:30 PM
Florida 11/1/14 2:30 PM
(9) Georgia
Georgia State 11/1/14 2:30 PM
Appalachian St
Kentucky 11/1/14 3:00 PM
Kansas 11/1/14 3:00 PM
(12) Baylor
Texas State 11/1/14 3:00 PM
New Mexico St
Houston 11/1/14 3:00 PM
So Florida
USC 11/1/14 3:30 PM
Washington St
Arkansas State 11/1/14 4:00 PM
South Alabama 11/1/14 4:00 PM
New Mexico 11/1/14 4:30 PM
UAB 11/1/14 6:00 PM
Fla Atlantic
(4) Auburn 11/1/14 6:00 PM
(7) Ole Miss
Old Dominion 11/1/14 6:00 PM
Colorado State 11/1/14 6:00 PM
San Jose St
Arkansas 11/1/14 6:15 PM
(1) Miss State
Stanford 11/1/14 6:30 PM
(5) Oregon
Tennessee 11/1/14 6:30 PM
So Carolina
Texas 11/1/14 6:30 PM
Texas Tech
Southern Miss 11/1/14 7:00 PM
Texas-El Paso
(6) Notre Dame 11/1/14 7:00 PM
Oklahoma State 11/1/14 7:00 PM
(11) Kansas State
Illinois 11/1/14 7:00 PM
(13) Ohio State
(14) Arizona 11/1/14 9:30 PM
(25) UCLA
California 11/1/14 9:30 PM
Oregon State
San Diego St 11/1/14 9:30 PM
Wyoming 11/1/14 9:45 PM
Fresno State
(18) Utah 11/1/14 10:00 PM
(15) Arizona State
Utah State 11/1/14 10:00 PM
Bowling Green 11/4/14 7:00 PM
Toledo 11/4/14 7:00 PM
Kent State
Buffalo 11/5/14 7:00 PM
Ohio U
Northern Ill 11/5/14 7:00 PM
Ball State
(22) Clemson 11/6/14 6:30 PM
Wake Forest
Sporting Kansas City 1 FINAL
Red Bull New York 2
Hamilton 6:30 PM
Winnipeg 11/1/14 3:00 PM
Brt Columbia 11/1/14 6:00 PM
Toronto 11/2/14 11:00 AM
Ottawa 11/7/14 6:00 PM
Calgary 11/7/14 9:00 PM
Brt Columbia
Montreal 11/8/14 3:00 PM
Edmonton 11/8/14 6:00 PM
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters



Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 preseason     
Aug 8 - vs. Oakland 7 pmX10-6
Aug 16 - vs. Arizona 7:30 pmX30-28
Aug 23 - at Kansas City 7 pmX30-12
Aug 28 - at Tennessee 7 pmX19-3
2014 regular season     
Sep 7 - at St. Louis NoonX34-6
Sep 14 - vs. New England NoonX30-7
Sep 21 - at New Orleans NoonX20-9
Sep 28 - vs. Atlanta 3:25 pmX41-28
Oct 2 - at Green Bay 7:25 pmX42-10
Oct 12 - vs. Detroit NoonX17-3
Oct 19 - at. Buffalo NoonX17-16
Oct 26 - at Tampa Bay NoonX19-13 ot
Nov 2 - vs. Washington Noon
Nov 9 - Bye
Nov 16 - at Chicago Noon
Nov. 23 - vs. Green Bay Noon
Nov. 30 - vs. Carolina Noon
Dec 7 - vs. NY Jets Noon
Dec 14 - at Detroit Noon
Dec 21 - at Miami Noon
Dec 28 - vs. Chicago Noon




question of the day

Poll: Grade the Vikings offense

Weekly Question