A New York Daily News story detailing the health concerns faced by the members of the ’86 Giants, winners of the Super Bowl thirty years ago this year, is yet another sobering look at the realities many ex-NFL players have to deal with.
It’s a wide-ranging piece, and certainly worth reading in its entirety. But the section on the troubles Phil Simms has had recently jumped out, considering they’ve impacted his time in the CBS broadcasting booth.
Simms suffered in the aftermath of a surgical procedure:
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Simms has not played golf in eight years. His back was killing him. A few years ago, he had surgery for spinal stenosis. Six months later, he felt like his back was always tight. He would stretch, work with foam rollers, try to work out a little bit, and that would give him a little relief. Then the pain would return 20 minutes later. He went to a Giants preseason game in the summer of 2015 to speak with team doctors. He was desperate for a solution.
“I was so miserable, I didn’t know what I was going to do,” Simms said.
Simms looked comfortable on television, but inside he was being tortured by the pain. He was miserable. He walked through airports and stopped every 20 feet to wipe the sweat off his forehead. He would act like his shoes were untied and bend down trying to relieve the pain. The years of twisting his back throwing a football had taken its toll on his body.
The 2014 season was never-ending. He was doing games for CBS on Sunday and Thursday and the pain was unbearable. That led to his visit with the Giants doctors.
That’s astounding, especially as we don’t tend to think of quarterbacks as main candidates for long-term pain and suffering, by virtue of the relatively low levels of contact they have to absorb on any given play. But the life of any professional athlete is a tough one, and Simms still took his share of hits. And the last thing someone with chronic back pain wants to be doing is sitting in a broadcast booth for an extended period of time while calling a game, to say nothing of the travel required to perform those duties.
Simms is apparently doing better:
He made pit stops in Denver throughout the season. He was sold. “(Greg Roskopf) knows how the body works,” Simms said. “If your left arm hurts, maybe it’s because your right shoulder was tight. To say I feel different is the biggest understatement in the world. I feel great. Playing takes so much out of you. It’s the contact and the training. It’s just so intense.”
Roskopf changed his life. “I went maybe once this season,” Simms said. “I know how to fix myself if I do feel a little pain.”
That’s good for Simms, of course, and he certainly deserves the best of health, whatever you might think of his abilities in the broadcast booth. But the entire story is by and large sad; these men were some of the best athletes alive just thirty years ago, and now many are fighting their own bodies and minds.
Often what we hear in defense of the NFL is the argument that even had these players fully known the risks they were undertaking, they wouldn’t have traded their careers. Well, here’s Lawrence Taylor from that very piece:
“At the end of the day, I wouldn’t trade it,” he said.
Then, he thinks about the fame and money he gained in his 13-year career with the Giants — which gave him the resources that helped lead to drug and alcohol problems – and wonders about the pounding his body took as he became the greatest defensive player in NFL history.
“Would I trade it?” he said slowly. “Maybe. I don’t know.”
These stories are only going to keep coming. Hopefully at least some, like Simms apparently did, manage to find effective treatment that allows them to live out their lives as pain-free as possible.