sports (2007-06)

Will Overstreet speaks out on player abuses

The NFL's Dark Side

by Tony Basilio

Sure the ratings are at an all-time high as the NFL completes its most successful season in history, culminating with the Colts' coronation. But once the hoopla from the season dies down, this should be a tumultuous off-season for America's most popular team sport. If the sycophant media does its job, the NFL should find itself finally having to answer questions about its growing list of casualties.

Former New England Patriot Ted Johnson was the latest to drop a dime on the league's policy of destroying lives in the quest to win and profit. Now a former Vol has come forward on my radio show to shed further light on the dark side of the NFL.

Johnson told The New York Times that at the age of only 34, life as he knows it is slipping away. A victim of countless concussions, Johnson spoke candidly of mental impairment consisting of the type of memory loss found in Alzheimer's patients. He traces his problems back to an incident a few years back with the Patriots, in which he claims team trainers essentially sacrificed him while in a concussed state. Multiple concussions later, Johnson was never the same. His story, while illuminating and troubling, is unfortunately not isolated.

Former Vol Will Overstreet is one of the lucky ones. A recent MBA graduate from UT, Overstreet got out of the NFL after three injury-riddled seasons with the Atlanta Falcons. Multiple shoulder injuries forced Overstreet into an early retirement, but not before he got a glimpse of the NFL's dark side. A regular contributor on my radio program, Will commented on the recent revelations by Ted Johnson.

TB: Does Johnson's story add up?

WO: "It's very common. I don't think it's a rare incident. I think a lot of times the trainer is going to be there telling you that you need to get back in there [and play], even when the trainer knows you're not ready. Put it this way. I'm not using any names, but I didn't trust or believe our trainer when I was with the Falcons. I didn't have a very good relationship with him. Simply because I knew of a couple times that he lied to me over a certain injury. I knew several other guys who believed that he lied the same way to them."

TB: Overstreet said that players have few advocates in the NFL.

WO: "All the older players and veteran guys always told you, 'Never trust the team doctor, and never trust the team trainer. They will lie to get you on the field. If you're a guy who's not going to make the team, they will throw you out there.'"

TB: Then there are the dirty tricks and con games played by team trainers.

WO: "Another thing that veteran players know is that if you're injured, never let them put your jersey on you and go outside and do a few drills. Because usually they'll hide a camera and film you only to cut you right after that. Then if you say, 'I was injured,' they'll take you to court and use the videotape of you training with your jersey on with the trainer, and they'll say 'See. He wasn't hurt here.'"

TB: How deep does it run?

WO: "In this business it's taught to every player from the older guys that the trainer and the doctor are in cahoots with the team and will do anything and everything to get you out back out on the field. Including breaking their medical oath. Including giving you bad advice. Including doing stuff that will be damaging to your career and ultimately your health."

TB: Was the NFL worth it to you?

WO: "I always tell guys that you better make sure you're getting paid enough. Because as an NFL player, you're sacrificing your body. You know you're taking years off the end of your life when you play that game. So make sure it's worth it in the short term because chances are, you'll pay the price in the long term."

TB: Even visible participants in the NFL wear battle scars that will haunt them for the rest of their lives.

WO: "They talk about Howie Long (of Fox Sports' NFL Pre-game Show ) who looks big and strong at the Fox table... as soon as he stands up and tries to walk away, he looks like an 80-year-old man, and he can barely move because his knees are in such bad shape."

TB: So who's fighting for the players?

WO: "I may never get a job with the NFL Network for publicly saying these things, but Gene Upshaw is in the owner's pocket. He's not independent of them at all. He's a sheep for the owners. There's nothing about him or that NFL players' union that is anything but a shell."

With Johnson and Overstreet on the record, look for more current and past NFL players to spill the beans. Hopefully, they will have a platform from places like ESPN--although, don't hold your breath.

After all, the NFL is a huge broadcast partner of ESPN. So it will be interesting to see if outlets like ESPN choose profit over protecting current and future players.

Tune in and talk sports with Tony Basilio weekdays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on ESPN Radio WVLZ 1180 AM. Visit www.tonybasilio.com for more information.