'From the Pressbox'
By Ernie Palladino
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At 11:30 p.m. tomorrow night, Eli Manning will try to coax some laughter out of the national audience that tunes in to Saturday Night Live.
Tuned out, undoubtedly and justifiably, will be any reference to Junior Seau.
That stuff is just too sad for a forum like SNL, which riotously featured Eli's more outgoing brother, Peyton, in 2007. They're all about the laughs, and that's fine.
But for those who ever watched Seau play linebacker for the Chargers or Patriots, saw the intensity, the speed, the violence, should look at the Giants' quarterback and realize the darker side of football.
Not that Manning is suffering any of the post-concussion symptoms that likely led Seau to put a gun to his chest and pull the trigger Wednesday. Pray that he never does, and that he gets to live his post-football life happily raising his daughter without the dark thoughts that enter a depression-afflicted mind. Pray that he never finds himself in a car, suddenly lost and disoriented on a route he's driven a thousand times before.
Pray that he never lashes out at his family in some sudden, inexplicable mood swing.
Those are all the dangers of the NFL today, the same ones that prompted former Bears and Giants defensive back Dave Duerson to blow his own heart apart, leaving instructions to donate his brain to concussion research. They're the same things that afflict former Patriots linebacker Ted Johnson and Giants Hall-of-Famer Harry Carson today, and former Jet Ray Lucas, and all the others who suffered those on-field car crashes every Sunday for years.
Let's also hope that if it does come to that for Manning, or any one of his contemporaries, for that matter, that the NFL will be offering more help than it is now. After years of denying that concussions had anything to do with post-career problems, they finally recognized that.
The league is now working to make helmets safer -- Manning has worn one of the re-jiggered headgear ever since the Jets' Calvin Pace opened a 12-stitch gash in his head in the 2010 preseason. Last year's collective bargaining agreement allocated $700 million over its 10-year span to retired players, which was a significant step-up from the past.
It wasn't enough. So much more needs to be done in terms of research and care. And make no mistake, players like Carson and Lucas, they're just the ones who came out publicly to testify and advocate. Who knows how many ex-players, stars and reserves alike, suffer in silence?
It shouldn't be up to organizations like PAST -- Pain Alternatives, Solutions, and Treatments -- to provide pro bono treatment for uninsured former players. Everyone who ever played in the league should be insured. It's up to the NFL and the NFL Players Association to get that done. And it's going to cost a lot more than $70 million per year, that's for sure.
So watch SNL and enjoy. See how Eli does. Enjoy him. And give him credit for giving comedy the old college try.
Just pray that he and his current colleagues have the support they'll need once the cheering and, for a guy like Eli, the laughter, stops.
What do you think the NFL should do to help support its struggling current and former players? Let us know in the comments below...
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