Saturday, October 15, 2011

An Open Letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell

Dear Mr. Goodell,

I see that you've been catching a lot of heat lately. In fact, you seem to be quite the disfavored crusader these days. I'm sure that you're very aware that the rule changes you've implemented in the NFL over the last few years haven't been very popular among the masses. Fans, broadcasters, even players, continuously criticize the effort you've made to make the league less hazardous to the health of those who play the game. Some say you're trying to take the contact out of the contact sport of American football. That your over-enthusiasm for concussion testing is making the NFL a league for pansies. That by taking the violent, bone-crushing hits out of football, you're making it less entertaining, less exhilarating in some way. Some say that your juvenile safety rules are, quite frankly, making their game watching experience a little less enjoyable. Well, Commissioner Goodell, this is what I say...this is what I say from the bottom of my heart...
Thank you.

I know that in the sticky business of the NFL you and the players often reside on opposite sides of the fence. The lockout we all endured this last year portrayed a player vs. owner scenario in which you appeared to be a ring leader for the "other side." And it's hard to deny that your authority to use your discretion to discipline players for off-field matters occasionally paints the picture of a dictatorship. But I'm willing to look past all of that Mr. Goodell. I'm willing to extend to you an olive branch of hope. You see, your attention to the health of the men who are the backbone of the NFL is attention to the man who is the backbone of my family. And you should know that you have the undying support of a select few regarding this issue.

There is no doubt that being married to an NFL athlete comes with it's highs and lows. A high being a Sunday on which I watch my other half do what he loves for a good living. A low being a morning on which I strip a blood-stained bedsheet off of our bed and wallow to the laundry room. A high being the smile on my sweet husband's face when his celebrity enables him to touch the life of a young soul. A low being the wrenching pain in my gut when I see him gasp for air after a vicious shot to the ribs. He doesn't gasp for air alone, Commissioner, and when he takes a moment to gather himself before standing, I take a moment to pray.

If you were to ask my husband about the car-accident-like collisions he sustains in his line of work, he'd tell you that it's all part of the game. That he'd rather take a dangerous hit up high than a season ending shot to his knees or ankles. He says the battering of his body is worth the opportunity to provide for his family for years to come. He says "sacrifice is simply required," but I'd be amiss if I didn't say that there are many days on which I say it should not be.

I'm sure you've heard the harrowing statistics and that you know the numbers well. Based on the changes you've made to the game, I have no doubt that you are fully aware that the suicide rate for ex-NFL athletes is SIX times the national average. And when it becomes front page news that another former player has passed away before his 50th birthday from heart failure, stroke, or another physical anomaly, I know you take notice. They say that playing in the NFL takes 10 years off of a man's life, but that number is quite modest isn't it? And the life that most of these guys live post-career are often riddled with surgery and chronic pain anyways, aren't they? They replace their knees, rebuild broken bones and medicate the ache but there's no cure for an early onset of Alzheimer's and despite all of the medical advances we benefit from these days, you and I both know that dementia is still a lock him up and throw away the key kind of diagnosis.

Earlier this year, when two time Super Bowl champion Dave Duerson took his own life, I was devastated. He was fifty years young. When I heard that he shot himself in the chest to spare his brain for neurological research I cried. He left a note to his family, asking them to donate his brain to the NFL Brain Bank. He wanted everyone to know, needed them to know, that the demons that tormented him for the latter years of his life were a direct result of the game. That he suffered from the debilitating brain disease Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, an unlivable condition brought on by years of head trauma on the football field. A death sentence brought on by the savage hits that your naysayers want to see more of.

I heard Dave Duerson was a good man. That before he began to deteriorate from the disease that ultimately took his life, he was a good husband and a great father to his four children. I heard that his son Tregg spoke at his funeral and that he hopes that his father's death was not in vain. I share in his wishful hope, and it is because of your recent rule changes that I believe that you may as well.

My husband is a good man too, Commissioner. In fact he is the best man. If you knew him, you'd agree. He's kind, playful and generous. His favorite holiday is Thanksgiving and he's the true definition of an animal lover if there ever was one. He's my best friend, a devoted father to our precious baby, and I need, more than anything, to grow old with him.

It gives me a small sense of peace to know that you're looking out for him. It makes me sleep just a tiny bit better at night. Because I know this man won't walk away from the game as long as his legs hold him upright. And I know that the league will have to shut him out one day in order for him to put it behind him. Even then, I know he won't go without a fight. So thank you for making the way in which he provides for his family a little less dooming. Thank you for doing what you can to try to give the violence of the game an ounce of order. Thank you for giving my husband the bit of protection that may allow him to know our son in his adulthood.

I appreciate your continued attention to this matter Mr. Goodell. Because to some of us this matter is all that really matters.