Right before the Chargers announced they were moving to Los Angeles, a story came out about former Chargers offensive lineman Shane Olivea.
He had a painkiller addiction that was beyond comprehension. He would swallow as many 125 Vicodin a day. To keep them down, he had to drink chocolate milk. If he used water or Gatorade, he’d throw them back up, he said.
Olivea told The Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch that he spent $584,000 on painkillers. This was, of course, to offset the pain and agony caused by playing the game of football for our beloved former San Diego Chargers.
Many football fans in San Diego are angry and upset about the loss of the Chargers, but some wonder just how viable the league is today, particularly because of the damage players suffer.
Did San Diego get out while the getting was good?
This past season, the Chargers saw injury after injury. Five running backs were lost for the season. And some of their injuries were nasty ones, such as running back Branden Oliver’s torn Achilles tendon.
A Washington Post headline summed it up this way: “Brandon (sic) Oliver hurt his Achilles’ tendon. You do not want to see the video.”
Charlie Camosy, an associate professor of Christian ethics at Fordham University in New York, had this to say about the Chargers leaving San Diego: “I think, given that the violence of football makes it an ethically questionable sport, it may indeed be a blessing in disguise.”
He was interviewed by the BBC a few years ago about violence in football and how he was having a harder time watching.
When it comes to our city’s loss, it might not be all that bad, he said.
“Unless football changes its rules and culture, it may simply die a natural death and we refuse to support it,” Camosy said. “San Diego may be ahead of the curve.”
Other factors are also hurting the game. Critics say the games are too long and there are too many penalties. TV ratings were down for the regular season this year.
However, it’s the toll the game takes on players’ health that has a growing number of people concerned. The concussion crisis caused many to wonder about the sport’s safety and whether it can truly be made safer.
Olivea’s disturbing story is hardly the only one.
Indeed, nearly 2,000 former players are suing the the league, alleging that teams abused prescription drug protocols. In short, they were handing out painkillers like nobody's business. According to a Washington Post story, the average team prescribed nearly 5,777 doses of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and 2,213 doses of controlled medications to its players in 2012.
The amount alarmed medical professionals. From the story: “It sounds like an incredible amount of intervention with some pretty risky drugs, some of which, in the case of Vicodin, have a high addiction potential,” said Arthur Caplan, director of the Division of Medical Ethics at New York University’s Langone Medical Center and co-founder of the NYU Sports and Society Program. “It makes you think, are the physicians looking out for the health of the players, or are they just trying to keep them on the field?”
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency started investigating the league's drug policy in 2010. And what was the impetus? According to the Post, the feds became concerned when then-Chargers safety, Kevin Ellison, was pulled over for speeding, and cops found 100 Vicodin in his car.
When players leave the game, many are not free of it. Former players have committed suicide, with families blaming the NFL and the violence of the sport as a contributing reason.
Paul Oliver, a former Chargers safety, shot himself in the head in front of his wife and two young sons three years ago in Atlanta. His wife is suing the Chargers and the NFL, alleging that he suffered concussions during his NFL career, which led to depression.
Junior Seau’s story is well known. The former Chargers linebacker shot himself in the chest. Some theorize it was to allow his brain to be examined for damage from the head injuries he suffered playing football.
Just recently, former San Francisco 49er wide receiver Dwight Clark — famous for "The Catch," a last-second touchdown grab that propelled the team to its first Super Bowl — announced he has ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. He suspects that playing football was a contributing factor. He's asking that the NFL and the players union continue their efforts to protect current and future players.
Gale Sayers, one of the greatest running backs in the history of the league, is suffering from dementia, his wife recently announced.
The physical pounding is just one aspect of the dangers of this game. Some players resort to all sorts of risks to play the game at its highest level.
Former Chargers center Nick Hardwick had to force himself to gorge on food to maintain his 300-pound weight for football. He was not that size naturally. He consumed mega-size protein shakes, bread, ice cream … “I was disgusting,” he told Monday Morning Quarterback.
Once he retired, he dropped 85 pounds in five months.
Journalist Will Leitch wrote a story for New York magazine called, “Is Football Wrong?”
“The NFL wants you to think about what goes on behind the curtain as little as possible,” he wrote. “I don’t blame them. There’s a lot to hide back there. I’m just not sure I can do it anymore.”
Leitch also thinks San Diego may be better off without the NFL.
“As we saw with St. Louis last year, and now San Diego, cities and their people are beginning to realize what economists and many investigative journalists have been telling them for years,” he said. “It’s a massive mistake to give these sports teams massive amounts of money to build a stadium that only they will profit from. Neverminding the product itself — which is becoming less desirable and less morally defensible; the fact is, cities are realizing they will, in fact, be happier WITHOUT the NFL.”
Leitch said cities can gain a sense of empowerment by walking away.
“I think people are proud of San Diego,” he said. “They should be.”