NFL Painkiller Scandal and Maya Angelou

(RANT & RAVE) This latest lawsuit to hit the NFL

If you are passionate about what’s right or wrong about Central New York, here is a corner for you to vent. Rant in poetry. Rant in prose. Rant against the bad. Rave for the good.

Here are the rules: No anonymous essays. Have a point-of-view, express it like you mean it and know what you are talking about. We are not looking for “on the other-hand” essays. Be civil. No personal attacks. No libel. No slander. Topics? Your choice: culture, policy, politics.  There are two (and only two) essay lengths: 300 words, and 600 words.


NFL Painkiller Scandal Should Be No Surprise

By Timothy Neal

This latest lawsuit to hit the NFL continues to raise the point that medical decisions in competitive athletics should be made with the long-term well-being of the athlete involved.

While dealing with a concussion settlement that still needs approval since its announcement in September, the NFL received notice that a group of former players filed a lawsuit alleging that while playing in the NFL they were recklessly given painkilling medications that led to health problems later in life. The suit also seeks to include any former players who received – in addition to painkilling drugs – anti-inflammatories, local anesthetic injections, sleep aids, or other medications without prescription, independent diagnosis or warning about side effects.

Some of the narcotics, anti-inflammatories and local anesthetics listed include Toradol, Percocet, Vicodin, Ambien and Lidocaine. Some players estimate they were given “hundreds, if not thousands” of injections and pills over the years. Additionally, some players complained about having injuries go undetected, thus delaying proper care and leading to life-time disabilities.

There are several issues to consider in this recent lawsuit.

First is the issue of full disclosure of injuries to players. The Kruger v. Forty-Niners decision established that medical professionals fully disclose test results and diagnoses of injuries to players. If testing was not performed, then there is disconnect between sustaining an injury, not performing testing such as an MRI or bone scan and continuing to play on an unresolved injury that requires narcotics or other drugs to ensure participation.

Most players communicate with their agents about their injuries, sometimes seeking second opinions at the request of the agent to provide an independent review of the nature and severity of an injury and recommendations on care to ensure the long term well-being of the player after his career is finished.

The medical practices of NFL medical staffs from the 1960s to the present are being examined, receiving at times high criticism. However, it is doubtful that general medical practices from 30 to 50 years ago would survive a review without criticism. Professional sports garner a great deal of media attention, be it in misbehavior of athletes or the medical care they receive. Going forward, the use of narcotics and injections treating injuries will be further scrutinized by team physicians, players, NFL administration  and the media. It is the nature of the business.

The players must also take ownership in their care and examine their motivations to continue playing in pain. Players must sometimes be protected from themselves; their zeal to play can cloud their judgment on what is an appropriate and inappropriate risk to their long-term health by participating with an unresolved or potentially disabling injury, or by not communicating to medical staffs how much pain they are truly in.

Last fall, a survey was done with NFL players about reporting their concussions to their medical staff. Fifty-six percent of players surveyed reported that they would hide their concussion from the athletic trainer or team physician to stay on the field, despite the growing concern over concussions and the pending settlement of the NFL concussion lawsuit. Is there any doubt that there are some players back in the 1960s to the present that would lie about their pain, or coerce or demand an injection or narcotic from a team physician to remain on the field?

Athletic participation has a finite shelf life, and some players will go to great lengths to extend their participation by allowing medical procedures that may put their long-term well-being at risk. The news has many stories of players taking nutritional supplements or performance enhancing drugs that may put their health in jeopardy.

Advances in medicine over time evolve our understanding of treating injuries, resulting in making course corrections in care to appropriately address injuries to benefit the athlete.

Timothy Neal is president of TLN Consulting Inc. and former assistant director of athletics for sports medicine at Syracuse University.

A Tribute to Maya Angelou

By Ruthnie Angrand

In our eyes, Maya Angelou has always been regal, always been without sin and never struggled to utter a profound word or live a profound moment. That’s not realistic, however, because to respect a person we need to marry our views of the people we canonize with their actions in the time they lived.

It’s the actions of someone’s life that humble and inspire us. They remind us that we love people and revere them because we see how human they are in the face of the vices that make us ineffective. They walk the walk, sometimes, with no light to lead them except for the faith in their own hearts.

As artists and admirers, we miss certain human pulses of Angelou: that she dropped out of high school but became San Francisco’s first African-American female cable car conductor; that she got pregnant in her senior year of high school but continued to work and be inspired by the arts by performing poetry, touring as a dancer, performer and singer; that she was black at a time and in places in America where it was not OK to simultaneously be black and talented and working; and above all, despite all, she lived a gloriously full and ambitious life.

I have the pleasure of saying I enjoyed Angelou before I knew she was a poet. I found her calypso vinyl hidden in my father’s closet and read about her work as companion to Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. long before I ever read her poems. Her life was poetry.
She has given us some very “heavy artillery,” and as writers and leaders, we have more than enough fire to fuel our steam.

The artist in me looks around for the steam whenever the fire is cold. It is a difficult thing to find, in part because the fires are different and the trends move quickly, but here is a woman who 50 to 70 years ago kept putting one foot in front of the other, in the darkness of a segregated era, trusting the flame in her core and the love in her heart.

For that, I will be far more revering than mournful and thank her more than she is missed.

Ruthnie “Rae Sunshine” Angrand is a workshop coordinator and original member of the Underground Poetry Spot, a poetry open-mic venue for five years.

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