by Dr. Boyce Watkins
Deion Sanders, one of the greatest men to ever touch a football, has come out pretty hard against the push for safety in the NFL. Sanders seems to be taking issue with the players who are starting to speak out about the long-term brain damage that often caused by spending several years having your head pounded by massive human beings running at you with extraordinary speed. It took a while, but there are some who are finally listening to the retired players, many of whom either die young or suffer debilitating consequences for their years on the grid iron.
Sanders seems to think that many of these men are simply deceptive hoaxsters seeking a payday. He argues that the NFL is nothing short of a blessing to all of us, and that there’s no reason to allow a few inexplicable suicides or anyone’s life-long agony to spoil the party. I’m not sure how Deion feels about the suicides of Dave Duerson, Junior Seau and other players who became prisoners in their own minds, but he’s not showing very much sympathy for players left to die like old race horses that are no longer useful. Honestly, this makes me sad.
Sanders took to Twitter to voice his disapproval:
“Not do the popular thing and chase money and lawsuits because we hear it may result in a payday. Lying affects many that are truthful.”
Mind you, I’ve always loved football. In fact, I grew up believing that I’d one day play for the Dallas Cowboys. So, it’s possible that my concern for Sanders’ comments is driven by a subconscious jealousy over the fact that he was the one dancing in the end zone, and not me. But in the midst of all of my “player haterology,” I dare say that Deion “Prime Time” Sanders might be a sad reminder that sometimes, the loudest voices are not always the most thoughtful ones. Deion needs to chill out and let these dudes be compensated for what the game did to them.
Rather than be an arm chair physician, maybe Deion should speak to a group of real physicians to find out what happens to a large percentage of players when they’ve suffered too many concussions. The same way Deion might have rightfully been irritated by fans who sat in front of the television and criticized his play on the field, there are many doctors who are equally annoyed when a man speaks on science without having spent a single day in medical school. The concussions are real Deion, and what’s even more real is that black men just like you are the ones being impacted the most.
Yes, football brings tremendous joy to a large number of people. But so did gladiator fighting, especially when men chopped each other’s heads off. Muhammad Ali excited millions of us by allowing other fighters to hit him in the head so many times that his brain was left only modestly functional. Fun is not the same as healthy, whether it’s a violent sport or popping bottles at the club on Friday nights (as we were reminded after the drunk driving death of former Cowboys player Jerry Brown).
I respect Deion as the legendary player that he was, and I also appreciate him for the man he continues to be. But some degree of truth and balance must be maintained to protect all the little boys who’ve been convinced that football is their only way out of the projects. It is my dream that rather than black men lining up to destroy our brains and risk paralysis by taking violent hits, we eventually become the ones who preserve our extraordinary minds for brilliance and education. There are a ton of ways to make serious money without turning yourself into a crash test dummy (the lawyers, managers and owners make the real NFL money anyway).
Deion needs to quietly respect his struggling colleagues and let the lawsuits take their course. Sloppy comments only serve to make the situation worse.