After football, now what? … Pain

The title of the post is a bit of a head-fake. What you are about to read is not about what all us fans will do now that football has wrapped-up until next Fall. No. “After football, now what?” is about the question that every pro-player has to face after retiring from the game. Yes, there is a big payday for many star players—one that leaves them financially set for life. But there can also be a tremendous physical cost.

USA Today published two stories talking about what life is like after football for some of the greats. All of them seem to have life-altering physical problems caused by years on the grid-iron. Here’s what the paper reports about the lives of football stars who are now well into their retirement, and the scene they describe is not pretty:

1. John Elway

“In this game, especially if you play as long as he played, chances are going to be you have something wrong when you leave the game,” John Elway, a Hall of Famer as a player and now Manning’s boss as executive vice president of football operations for the Denver Broncos, told USA TODAY Sports.

It’s simply the price you pay for doing business with the NFL.

Elway, who played his entire career without an ACL in his left knee, had it replaced within a decade of retiring in 1999.

2. Terrell Davis

Terrell Davis, Denver’s running back when it won those Super Bowls in 1997 and 1998, has no cartilage in his right knee and not much more in his left. Eventually, at least one will have to be replaced.

3. Deion Sanders

Deion Sanders is scheduled for back surgery next week to repair a sciatic nerve so painful he can’t sit in the same position for more than about 10 minutes. That’s in addition to the three toe surgeries he’s already had.

“In every battle there’s going to be casualties and this game is that. So you’re going to be one of the casualties,” said Sanders, who won two Super Bowls during a 14-year career that ended in 2005.

“But it’s what I signed up for, so how can I complain?”

4. Joe Montana

Joe Montana retired, in part, so he’d be able to keep up with his active family as his kids got older. Now 59, he’s got arthritis in his elbow, one of his knees and both of his hands. One of his knees won’t straighten, and he hasn’t had feeling in his left foot since 1986.

He’s had back surgery as well as three procedures on his neck, and thinks he’ll have to have another spinal fusion.

“My whole family likes to live on the edge, so some of the things I regret that I can’t do with them,” Montana said. “Most of the stuff, I try to do. I’ll suffer after.”

Then there’s the nerve damage in one of his eyes that doctors attributed to “head trauma.”

“Can’t figure out where that came from,” Montana deadpanned. “Right now it’s still a little bit manageable, but it continues to get a little bit worse. Can’t fix it, so there’s not a lot I can do.”

[Read the rest of Montana’s story here.]

5. Peyton Manning

Manning missed the entire 2011 season after a herniated disk in his neck left him with nerve damage in his right – throwing – arm. He had four surgical procedures, the most significant being spinal fusion.

Four years later, the 39-year-old still doesn’t have feeling in his fingertips – and it might never come back.

“Am I going to have some potential neck procedures down the road?” Manning said earlier this week. “I don’t know the answer to that.”

His hip, however, now that’s a different story.

Manning said he was meeting with one doctor to go over risks and potential problems when the doctor dropped the news that he’d need his hip replaced.

“I said ‘Doc, I didn’t ask you if I was going to have a hip replacement. I didn’t need to know that right here at age 37, but thanks for sharing,'” Manning said. “I look forward to that day when I am 52 and have a hip replacement.”

Yes, these guys make big bucks, but it comes at a great cost. A very great cost.


  • Ian Shaw

    Just look at the way the HOF players at the Superbowl walked out. None of them were walking normally.

    My team the Lions, are having one of their greatest players retire. I don’t even think the ‘all-spark’ could save Megatron this time…

    This is why you’re seeing much younger guys retire/leave the game. This is going to cause a collapse in the revenue capability of the NFL.

  • Larry Geiger

    Coal miners. Shipwrights. Timber harvesters. Machinists. Surfers. Offshore fishermen/netters. Roofers. Fire fighters. Men. It’s part of the job.

    I know one or more of each of the above. They’ve all experienced health issues related to their job or previous careers. Comes with the territory.

    Just to be fair, women programmers. Many of the ones I know have wrist and carpal tunnel issues. This world is not constructed in such a way to provide everyone with perfect health at the age of 65.

    What’s your favorite theologian’s health issue? Dusty, must books? That’s my wife’s issue. She’s a librarian. Takes Claritin every day. Sometimes it works. Spreading rear end due to too much sitting? Brain strain? Neck and back stress listening to first timer’s sermons? (Sorry 🙂 )

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