In recent months, it seems as though there has been a surge of stories related to NFL players, current and former, and concussions. New research shedding light on the cognitive problems associated with concussions sustained during NFL games has been brought to light. Questions about whether current NFL players are adequately protected against concussions on the field of play and whether former players were misled about the risks of concussions adherent in playing the game, have been raised. Lawyers have drawn up lawsuits asserting various legal claims against the NFL arising from the concussions suffered by their former NFL player clients during their playing career.
Given that the concussions issue is arguably one of the biggest concerns currently facing the NFL, this is the first piece which will be published on RulingSports.com investigating the issue. While future pieces will look into the legal issues surrounding concussions sustained by players in the NFL, this piece will provide a former players’ perspective into some of the challenges faced by former NFL players, what resources are available to NFL players after the conclusion of their career and why concussions are at the center of both of these issues.
LaMar Campbell played only one year of high school football. Yet, Campbell was talented enough that he was recruited out of high school to play football at the University of Wisconsin, where he was a three-year starter. After college, Campbell moved to the ranks of the NFL, joining the Detroit Lions as a free agent. Campbell played for five years with the Lions before an injury ended his NFL career.
“I had a really bad injury my last year [in the NFL] that affected me going into camp. It never fully healed and I got released on the last cut day,” explained Campbell.
Campbell’s scenario is not uncommon. Every year, injury will prevent players from returning to the game they love and from receiving the income they’ve come to expect from it. On top of being without income earned through playing in the NFL, players are oftentimes strapped with high insurance premiums upon leaving the NFL.
“Your insurance premiums can be astronomical for a 26 to 27-year-old guy. If you have a family, then there’s that additional cost. The NFL does offer insurance programs at a lower premium, but you’re still going to pay the premium. I’m familiar with players who have had financial troubles because of insurance,” noted Campbell.
In explaining why insurance premiums are high for former NFL players, Campbell noted that most NFL players have likely sustained some sort of serious injury throughout their playing history–whether it be in high school, college or during their NFL career. Campbell also noted that the prevalence of concussions in the NFL has arguably increased some former NFL players’ insurance premiums.
For many young men, the chance to play football in the NFL is a dream come true. For those talented enough to achieve that dream, the short-lived nature of the dream can leave some former NFL players with feelings of confusion and a lack of a plan for future endeavors upon the ending of their NFL careers. Most NFL players wisely manage the money earned from their career and are able to meet their financial responsibilities, including insurance premiums, after the completion of their NFL career. However, given that, according to Campbell, the average career span of an NFL player is 3.52 years, most NFL players seek alternative employment opportunities at the end of their NFL career.
Arguably, one of the greatest resources available to former NFL players setting off on a new career path, is the NFLPA. Campbell explained that the NFLPA hosts networking events in each NFL city, along with franchising events, which give former players the opportunity to invest in franchises. The NFLPA also presents various player development programs, including the NFL Business Management and Entrepreneurial Program. The program, which is presented at top-ranked business schools, including Harvard Business School and Wharton, provides MBA-like educational opportunities for those players interested in cultivating their own business opportunities.
While the NFLPA and NFL present opportunities for players which will assist them in making their post-NFL transition, Campbell notes that there is some responsibility on the player himself to take hold of these opportunities and his future. Campbell fairly advocates this stance, as he himself took control of his post-NFL opportunities and future.
“I retired and finished my degree. I received degrees in history and secondary education. I interned with the Lions after I was released as a scouting intern,” said Campbell.
Thereafter, Campbell completed the NFL Business Management and Entrepreneurial Program. After completing the program, Campbell was offered his own radio platform on the Voice of America network after taping various radio spots during last year’s Super Bowl. Today, he hosts a show on the network, “Life After the Game,” which details various issues faced by NFL players after they hang up their cleats. One issue Campbell has dealt with significantly on his show, is the issue of concussions in the NFL.
As a former NFL player who has transitioned smoothly into what he calls, “life after the game,” Campbell is quick to remember the plight of those players still playing on the gridiron.
“That’s what we’re fighting for along with the NFLPA: Better health and good wages. I don’t look at myself as a union member; it’s a brotherhood. Your teammates become your family. When you go onto the field, you’re going to war with your family. In the entire country, 1,600 individuals are fortunate enough to play in the NFL. That’s a very small fraternity. This is time for respect. The guys did it for you and the guys are still fighting. The older guys are still fighting. Just like they fought for us, we’re going to fight for the younger guys,” said Campbell.
The fight has just begun, and the enemy has a name: concussions.