There are so many sad stories of former NFL veterans in terrible physical condition, and all the stories are important.
When fans complain about the game becoming too soft, they must be ignorant of the stories of former players who can't live a normal life in retirement at a relatively young age. When they speak with scorn about the league trying to put in rules to protect players from injuries, they aren't considering what someone like former Cincinnati linebacker Reggie Williams goes through on a daily basis.
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Williams, who played with the Bengals from 1976-89, started two Super Bowls and is the team's all-time leader among linebackers in most categories including tackles, has had 24 surgeries on his right knee, which looks almost unrecognizable. According to an enlightening story by the Cincinnati Enquirer's Paul Daugherty, Williams is fighting off amputation of his right leg, which doctors tell him is inevitable. His right leg is almost three inches shorter than his left leg after all the injuries.
Here is what Williams' knee looks like after 24 surgeries, in a photo from the Enquirer's story. It's not pretty:
The story, which is a great read and worth the time if you have any compassion for the men who entertain us on Sundays in the fall, details the difficulty Williams has in his day-to-day life.
He hasn't had a meal at home in more than two years because he can't be on his feet very long to cook, the Enquirer said. His house during the summer is between 85 and 90 degrees because he can't use air conditioning, or his knee feels worse. He has had the surgeries, the first coming in 1979, knee replacements and multiple infections (in 2008 he was diagnosed with the bone infection osteomyelitis, which was not identified for two years) that have left his right leg 2 5/8 inches shorter than the other. He has no insurance to cover the pre-existing condition, so he pays for his own rehabilitation. He has battled the NFL and the Bengals for years over disability benefits. The Dartmouth-educated Williams felt the need to retire from a vice president job at Disney in 2007, at age 53, to dedicate himself to rehabilitation and saving his leg, the Enquirer story said.
This is what 14 NFL seasons and 206 games can do to a man.