Four long quarters fill with 60 minutes. You put your body at risk every second you play. Every down you embark on could possibly be your last. Every hit you make or take can damage you mentally or physically.
Despite the dangers, you only think one thing: Every stop or touchdown I make will get my team that closer to victory. This is the difference between being the Alpha dog or the puppy with his tail tucked between his legs.
As a football player you know that pain comes with the sport. It's common knowledge. There are bumps, bruises, sprains, and breaks, but that doesn't stop you from reaching your goals. You often hear, "Rub some dirt on it, champ," "Suck it up," or a coach's favorite: "Fight through it we need you." We need you... one thing every athlete loves hearing, but it is the most difficult obstacle to deal with. When reading about the recent lawsuit filed by ex-Cal Bear safety Bernard Hicks against the University of California Berkeley, I wasn't nearly surprised.
I am no stranger to Cal Berkeley and its football team. Under Jeff Tedford I played for the Golden Bears between 2010-2012. While there I sustained various injuries, from a herniated disc in my back to a torn MCL. During my two-year stint I also encountered four concussions, which I continued to play with twice. My concussions led to difficult times in the classroom, bad headaches, and struggles within practice while I tried to make a name for myself. There was a point that my concussion was so bad I failed the same test three times before they let me go back out there and play.
On the field, I was aware that I was hurting myself not demanding the proper treatment, but I had too much pressure from coaches, players, and my pride going against me. The fear of losing my spot or being put down on the depth chart scared me more, and I couldn't afford to lose out on an opportunity. Let's face it, America: Football is more than touchdowns and contracts. It's a game of strength, will, and who can hold on to their bodies the longest.
Bernard Hicks is not crazy or wrong to sue Cal for not giving him the proper treatment for his concussions. According to Hicks' lawyer, Matthew Whibley, since Hicks has finished playing, he suffers from depression, dizziness, suicidal shots, blurred vision, and permanent neurological injuries. It is fair to assume that these are not coincidental injuries, as you know Chargers legend Junior Seau suffered from CTE, a brain disease from the result of too many hits to the head. Hicks was the Bears starting safety and recorded over 100 tackles in his four-year career. If this brain disease can come into a possible connect with Hicks' case, the Bears can see big trouble in their path.
Hicks' was a leader for the Bears' defense, and he could not "afford" to lose time, as the team needed him. You might ask, "Well, who said Hicks was really needed?"
Let's look at the facts. Hicks was a part of a nationally ranked Bears team that came into the 2007 season at No. 12. The Bears was ranked as high as No. 2 in the nation that year after starting off 5-0. Players want to be a part of that success and are under the impression they cannot let their team down.
This is not a direct statement, but you can very well sense the pressure from coaches, peers, and the most important person: yourself. Instead of getting the proper time off, he was given his helmet and a bowl of pressure to go back out there and put his body in further jeopardy. The pressure came from simply not wanting to just walk away from the season and watching the next individual dominate at his position. Also, when the NFL is in the eyes of a young ambitious athlete, it is pretty difficult to just sit out and watch. Players often feel like persevering through pain builds true character in a sport like football.
Cal Berkeley football was in the spotlight when it comes to their players' health in 2014, when outside linebacker Ted Agu passed away on the football field in winter workouts. Agu was known as a hard worker with a constant motor, usually the first guy in the building and the last guy out. Ted was also an incoming freshman with me in 2010 and truly one of my best friends.
When will everyone involved in football take player safety seriously? Despite the top-notch helmets, pads, and tests they run on a yearly basis, they are not looking at the foundation of health: Recovery. Pressuring your athletes to fight through life-changing injuries is not making someone stronger or a better player. Instead, it is destroying their future by the second, putting them in great depression and constant struggle like Hicks.
My experience as an athlete is quite similar; I never recovered from an elbow injury I sustained at Cal. For two years, I fought through that injury, wearing an elbow brace and withstanding the pain. My career ended my senior year with three games left at the University of New Mexico, when I could no longer straighten my elbow and had to receive season-ending surgery.
My message to athletes and coaches is there is more to life than football. Players, put your health first, and your coaches, teammates, and fans should respect you enough to do the same.