Can I Take a Nap First isn’t very sports-inclined, but what we do notice are trends. Maybe it’s a stretch, but this week’s focus on A-Rod and the Biogenesis suspensions made me very aware of three recent obituaries of NFL players:
(Note: Links are to the NY Times obits)
George Sauer, who played for the NY Jets as a teammate of Joe Namath in the historic win over the Baltimore Colts in the 1969 Super Bowl, was 69 when he passed last May from congestive heart failure and struggles with Alzheimer’s disease. Despite his athletic gifts, Sauer retired from football at age 27 citing the “chauvinistic authority” and dehumanizing elements of professional football. He called professional football “a grotesque business” designed to “mold you into someone easy to manipulate. He lived the rest of his life in relative obscurity, an autodidact, working on his writing. George Sauer
Jim Hudson, who was a critical defensive back for the Jets on the historic 1969 team, died at age 70 from Parkinson’s dementia. Hudson requested that his brain and spine be donated to researchers at Boston University who are studying the relationship between head trauma and neurological disease. In effect to give players (especially young ones) more protection in the sport. Jim Hudson
Art Donovan, All-Pro defensive tackle for the Baltimore Colts and modest jokester, died at age 89. He authored an autobiography: Fatso: Football When Men Were Really Men (1987). In the book he made mention that he was a light eater, in that “I never started eating until it was light.” The other fact I discovered made me salute his mother: he was born weighing 17 pounds. His obit closed with the quote “I was lucky enough to play football, and everyone liked me. That’s it.” It’s also worth noting that his top salary as a professional football player was $22,000. Art Donovan
Athletes have physical gifts. They are able to train and use their bodies in ways we mortals can only admire. We enjoy watching them play their sports as much as we hope they enjoy playing (albeit they are professionals who draw a salary to play). But the three men above strike me as adults who made some hard decisions about their careers. Yes, they achieved some remarkable things playing football, but above all, they were human.
Is it the high stakes of professional sports that push players to risk both their careers and health with performance enhancing drugs? Are we kidding ourselves as fans when we are “shocked” by the allegations and admissions of sports figures? Are we too quick to elevate any athlete to superstar (super human?) status when we buy into the hype about them?
It’s not a surprise that this generation of sports figures are passing from this life, but the timing of these deaths just make me wonder if suspensions, asterisks and scandals are how we will remember anybody (not just athletes) in the future.