Addressing a room full of youth football players at Detroit's Sound Mind Sound Body Camp on Friday, NFL Hall of Famer Lem Barney described football as a "deadly" game in danger of becoming extinct over the next two decades, according to multiple reports.
"The game is becoming more deadly today," Barney told the youth football players while sitting on a panel with several Division I coaches, including Michigan's Brady Hoke. "It's a great game. I think it's the greatest game if you like gladiator-ism.
"It's the greatest game for yesteryear's gladiators, but I can see eventually, in the next 10-20 years, society will alleviate football altogether because of how strong it's becoming, how big it's becoming and the tenacity it already has. And it's going to only get worse."
Hoke, Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio, Western Michigan's P.J. Fleck, Eastern Michigan's Ron English and Wisconsin's Gary Andersen all sat beside Barney, and a few coaches countered that technological advances are being made to improve safety.
Still, Barney played 11 NFL seasons -- more than the rest of the panel combined -- earning Defensive Rookie of the Year honors in 1967, seven Pro Bowl selections and an induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1992.
That career came with a price. He suffered "seven or eight" undiagnosed concussions, he told the youth football players gathered at the camp. An ophthalmologist recently diagnosed the head injuries when Barney could no longer read his bible.
"There are a lot of people that don't want to let the game go," Barney added. "But the game is going to kill a lot of people if (something doesn't change) soon. Maybe take the helmet out of the game, which I don't think they'll do (in the NFL).
"Bubba Smith left us, Dave Duerson left us, Junior Seau of late -- guys are killing themselves because of the head injuries they had. You hear about guys who played in championship games, Pro Bowlers, Super Bowl participants ... but you don't hear about the average Joe who played and is killing himself. The game is that deadly today."
Describing the panel that featured so many college coaches at a youth football camp as the wrong place to make such remarks, Barney apologized for his comments in this statement to the Detroit Free Press:
The other day at the Sound Mind and Body Camp I was asked about my thoughts on football and safety. While I made comments I believe to be truthful it is apparent to me now that the camp was not the forum for those comments. These are the same comments I have made for years before Congress, under oath and at numerous events for retired players and it’s become second nature. I don’t want to discourage young men from their love of the game, I just want the game to be safe. What I said were things I feel, things that happened to me, but obviously it was not the right time or place. I have the utmost respect for Coach Hoke, Dantonio, and all MHSAA, CYO, PAL and Pop Warner coaches and I apologize to any of the coaches whom I made uncomfortable at the event. I wish all those involved in our great sport a long, healthy and SAFE career.
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