By Jason Keidel
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Every year, at some rookie symposium, some football elder stands before the crowd and tells his tale of woe. From Hollywood Henderson to Pac Man Jones to Ryan Leaf, there's ample parables from which these young bucks can draw some knowledge.
Henderson used to stuff cocaine into his thigh pad. Pac Man had a rap sheet longer than the Magna Carta. Leaf wasted his epic talent, lost his career, then his mind, breaking into houses to support his painkiller habit.
You'd think these lives of danger, of neglect, of insanity, would drip down into the eager minds of young men. But too often they don't absorb the moral of every, or any, story. Over the last two years we've heard of grotesque misconduct, from Ray Rice to Adrian Peterson to Ray McDonald.
About five years ago, I interviewed Phil Simms for a local newspaper. I asked him why pro athletes repeat the very conduct they swore to avoid. Simms suggested it wasn't as much a celebrity thing as a human thing. From drinking to smoking to overeating, regular folks always abide by the same mantra: "it won't happen to me."
So the liver and lung disease that come with alcohol and nicotine, and the heart disease that comes with obesity, is supposed to somehow skip the party animal or the epic food consumer. The only difference is those stories aren't splashed across CBS, ESPN, or TMZ.
Not to excuse the average Joe, but the exceptional athlete has to guard his gifted body. Without his blessed speed and bionic limbs, he'd probably join average Joe in the world of anonymity, if not mediocrity. No one has more incentive to fine-tune their physiques than pro football players, yet two prominent ones still thought it fine or fun to play with fireworks.
There's a certain irony to it. So many cautionary tales, yet so few players take precautions. Travis Henry and Antonio Cromartie have more kids than fingers, while Jason Pierre-Paul has fewer fingers than he should, because of a very dubious decision he made over the July 4 weekend.
Pierre-Paul is now in a lousy football position. The long-term deal the giants were pondering has been pulled from the table, leaving only his unsigned, $14.8 million franchise tender, much of which he may not see, depending on when he can play again. It's all part of a legal and labor hodgepodge, including fine print and physicals and non-football injury lists.
No doubt Pierre-Paul was once a wide-eyed rookie, toiling in some dark auditorium, listening to some graybeard warm the room then warn the room of the perils of professional football. Maybe he was texting at the time, or playing Candy Crush Saga. Or maybe he simply fell asleep.
Pierre-Paul is wide awake now. And his current nightmare is no dream. Maybe in 10 years he takes a turn at the dais, hoping the next generation listens better than his.
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