As the NFL world deals with the death of Junior Seau, active players are once again answering questions about the sport they love and whether or not it will bring an early end to their life. That was just one of the topics we brought up with Buffalo Bills safety George Wilson when he joined Jeremy White and me on Thursday.
Wilson, who said he felt complete shock when he heard of Seau’s death, said long term health wasn’t something players used to think about much but that’s changed with all of the research in recent years. “Guys are more mindful of the harm they subject themselves to over their entire career” said Wilson. “You have more guys thinking long term and not just to be able to take care of their families but to be around and be able to enjoy their families.”
Despite the research and stories of debilitating injuries, dementia and in some cases suicide, Wilson has never thought about giving up the game even though it may take years off his life. “That’s something I definitely know, that I understand and most guys who look at the information objectively should understand as well” Wilson told WGR. “Playing this game comes with some trade offs and you have to give up something to get something and unfortunately its our time.”
Which might beg the question: Is it really worth it? There was no hesitation as Wilson responded in the affirmative. “This is something we’ve done our entire lives” the Bills player rep said. “Its in our bloodstream. This is something we live to do. We love the competition, the aggression, the camaraderie that comes with playing the game. It doesn’t make the person but it helps be part of the person. Being a part of this game is tremendous fun, competing, facing different challenges different teams present. Guys live for and thrive for this but with new information, if you ask guys would they allow their sons to play this game, that’s when you’ll start to hear a few different answers than you heard a few years ago.”
On that point we turned to Steve Tasker who also joined us on Thursday’s show. Tasker has sons who play football and his oldest, Luke, had a standout career at St. Francis High School and now plays at Cornell University. Tasker said he never thought about not letting his kids play football. “For me, even now at this point in my life, I think the positives far outweigh the negatives” Tasker said. “The game is such a great teacher of life skills, its not all about them, you have to be part of a group, part of a team and be willing to sacrifice for the greater good.”
The risk for players in the NFL doesn’t just end when their career ends. For many that is when the problem begins as they deal with various injuries or afflictions brought on as a result of the physical pounding their bodies took.
That’s why Wilson believes the NFL should do more when it comes to monitoring players once they can no longer play the game they love so much. “That’s difficult for someone who’s always been able to handle challenges and some guys handle it better than others” Wilson said. “We’re so accustomed to being very masculine and being able to handle whatever comes our way that we’re expected to be able to get through it. We’re still human. We’re still men and we need that help.”
As far as the future of the game and whether or not the NFL can take additional steps to increase safety, Wilson said they have made tremendous strides with the changes in kickoff coverage, the crackdown on hits to the head and fines for hits above the shoulder. He added it is a collision sport and there’s only so much you can do without changing the way the game is played.
Tasker, who made a name for himself on special teams, thinks they may be moving towards the day when the league will take kickoffs completely out and even though people will “frown and cry” about it, in the long run it will be good for the players as they go on with their lives. The NFL has taken numerous steps to make the game safer for quarterbacks and Tasker feels they’re going to make it that way for everybody eventually.