Football a Danger Work Zone

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This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and this is The Score.

Mothers across America are either mandating or pleading that their sons don't play football. And if you read the weekly gridiron injury reports, moms' fears are well-founded. The NFL season is a mere three weeks old, yet the list of players already lost for the whole year is long. Redskins right guard Randy Thomas: right-triceps tear. Jaguars receiver Troy Williamson: torn right labrum. Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall: fractured left shoulder. Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher: dislocated right wrist.

And how about the Bears defensive tackle Dusty Dvoracek? This is his fourth year in the NFL and, four for four, he has sustained season-ending injuries. Foot surgery sidelined him his entire rookie season. In '07 a torn Anterior Cruciate Ligament in his left knee meant he played only one game. Last year he tore a biceps tendon.

And this year he tore the ACL in his other knee in a pre-season game.

Actually, if I read all the knee injuries so far this year, we'd need an extra hour for this edition of The Score, and we've just gotten through September. As these guys fatigue through the season, the injuries escalate exponentially. Studies indicate that men who play five or more years in the NFL have an average lifespan of 55, some 20 years less than the public at large. For linemen, life expectancy is even lower at 52, and the looming factor causing shorter lifetimes for these men is the extreme physical wear-and-tear that is the nature of the game they love. Add to that the fact that some 20% of all NFL players average more than 300 pounds, a number that soars once their playing days are done. The joints, the hearts, and other organs of these supersized superheroes are under tremendous stress, usually starting back in junior high school. And we can throw in steroid family substances as a debilitating factor for some of these guys, too.

And do you know how long the average career lasts for a professional football player? A shockingly short less than three years.

For all these reasons, I don't grouse about the money NFL players make. For the considerable entertainment they provide, they sacrifice plenty. And for all these reasons, I don't criticize college players for wanting to leave school early and get a chance for those three years of pro money before they're injured and never see a big payday.

Last year USC Coach Pete Carroll was publicly unhappy about his quarterback's decision to leave school early for the NFL. Mark Sanchez is hitting early heights already for the New York Jets, picking up the paper and reading that the kid who took his place at USC this year, Aaron Corp, is out for a while with a crack on the head of his left fibula. Perhaps ironically, Sanchez had the exact same injury when he was playing college ball. He wanted the pro experience, and paycheck, before something worse happened to him.

The two top quarterbacks in the current college game, both of whom could have left school early and entered this year's pro draft, are nursing injuries and perhaps second-guessing their decisions now. Oklahoma's Sam Bradford might have even been the first quarterback taken this year, ahead of Mark Sanchez. Tim Tebow, seemingly indestructible Florida Gator gladiator, was clobbered into a serious concussion last week. He'll probably only be out a couple of weeks but repetitive head injuries are one of the main reasons pro players only get three or so years to make the big bucks.

So keep in mind as we enjoy the fall football season that a mother's instincts are usually right: We might as well cordon off the field with warning tape that reads “Danger: Hazardous Work Zone.”

This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and that's The Score.

Banner image: Adrian Peterson #28 of the Minnesota Vikings breaks away from Brian Urlacher #54 of the Chicago Bears at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome on December 17, 2007 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Photo: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images



Diana Nyad