The Wish of an NFL Wife

Cleveland Browns linebacker Scott Fujita, is about as courageous and outspoken an athlete on the contemporary sport's landscape. His wife Jaclyn Fujita is at least as sharp and strong-willed as her husband, but has made the choice to not be as outspoken as Scott. Until now.

Cleveland Browns linebacker Scott Fujita, is about as courageous and outspoken an athlete on the contemporary sport's landscape. His wife Jaclyn Fujita is at least as sharp and strong-willed as her husband, but has made the choice to not be as outspoken as Scott. Until now. Jaclyn Fujita was pushed to write something about the realities of NFL life, after a dear friend was diagnosed with ALS (commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease and believed to be linked to repeated concussions). This tragedy invaded their lives in the same awful recent weeks when former NFL player Kevin Turner was diagnosed with ALS and Chicago Bear legend Dave Duerson took his own life by shooting himself in the chest instead of the head so his brain could be studied for the effects of post-concussive syndrome. Jaclyn didn't originally write the following for publication, just catharsis. But many have asked her to put it out there with the hope that fans could understand why the NFL players have chosen to say that safety and security are non-negotiables.

 

By Jaclyn Fujita

 

I am a pro football player's wife amd my husband has been knocking heads for the last 20+ years.  We chose this path.  The burden - whatever it may be - rests on our shoulders. This was the dream we decided to chase.
     

Honestly, though, I don't know that we were fully aware of the ultimate reality of the National Football League.  We learned the hard way that he would work his ass into the ground, playing every defensive down and special teams, and would be the lowest paid man on the roster.  That he would experience multiple concussions, but remain on the field.  That he would suffer full ligament tears and shouldn't have been walking, but team doctors would tell him it was a "minor sprain" and should still play.  That even though you have given your heart and soul to a team, they can easily replace you with a rookie who has never played in the NFL before.
     

My husband could have lost his life to a staph infection.  His NFL doctors and trainers were heating/icing/stemming his knee for a bursa-sac rupture and ignoring all the major signs of infection, while his body was screaming that something else must be wrong.  He ended up in an emergency operation weeks after symptoms began.  Following five nights in hospital isolation and many weeks beating back the infection, he was ready to play for the city we love and a team we built our life around.  He would help them win the coveted Super Bowl Championship. Less than a month later he would be gone, feeling completely expendable and replaceable as if his blood, sweat and tears did not matter.
     

Now I know many dont want to hear our complaints: we made our bed and now we have to lie in it. But what about the pro football players of tomorrow who have no idea what they are stepping into?  Boys who are playing football because they love it and have found something they are really good at?  They see the pride on their family's faces every time they strap on that helmet, but these young men have no idea of the pain they will endure or the true uncertainty of their career choice.  They have no idea how long they will work or when their bodies will say "no" to the abuse. What these men need to know is that as they step on the field and risk major injury - while generating billions of dollars for this industry - the billionaires who write the checks are not looking out for them.  They need to know that they are going to be lied to.  They need to know that when they suffer an injury they will be told they should buck up and play.
     

But the day will come when they decide to walk away from the sport they played for the last 20 years of their lives.  The sport which taught them to play through pain, to never complain, to never stop, to yell, to scream, to hit, to fight, to destroy the man in front of them, to work until they puke, to lay their body on the line every Sunday and just hope that they walk off that field and aren't carried.  That day will come when they leave this game -- the game that used them and abused them, yet the game they loved so passionately.
     

Each man will walk away thinking that if his knees are to give out, hopefully it happens in the next 5 years before his health coverage expires.  And if he has to cover himself with money from his own pocket, he will hope it doesn't break him.  Insurance companies aren't looking to cover the 10-year veteran pro football player with the pounding migraines and ALS or severe depression that could be lurking just around the corner.  His knees and back are sure to give out faster than the average person, and he may lose his mind due to all the concussions.
     

And here they are, simply asking the men who profit from their work, to PLEASE look after their health, as they should have done throughout their career.  They ask this so that someday, the young boy who chooses this path knows he will be protected the way he deserves.  So his mother, wife, or child will know that even though that hit looks awful, there is someone on the sideline with his best interests at heart.  So future NFL wives who watch their husbands unable to get out of a chair on a Tuesday, yet still strap it come Sunday, will be taken care of.  So the man who is sacrificing his body and mind for the thrill of the game can be confident that his work will not go unnoticed. He will not be forgotten.  He will not go unprotected.  He will have earned the right to be taken care of for life.  He will be kept safe from his damaged body and mind.  For it was those bodies and minds of 53 men on 32 teams who every year generate billions of dollars for this industry.  They deserve to be cared about.
     

That is my wish for tomorrow's boys, men, mothers, fathers, and wives who will build their lives around this American pastime.  They will have something when their money runs out.  And when their aches and pains become unbearable, they will have the comfort of knowing that their blood, sweat and tears will carry them for the rest of their lives.  They did not sacrifice their health and well-being for nothing.  They will not be forgotten.

 

[Dave Zirin is the author of “Bad Sports: How Owners are Ruining the Games we Love” (Scribner) and just made the new documentary “Not Just a Game.” Receive his column every week by emailing dave@edgeofsports.com. Contact him at edgeofsports@gmail.com.]

10 Reader Comments | Add a comment

"Sports" != "sport's"

I run a site called "Bad Apostrophes" and I've written a post highlighting the extraneous punctuation mark included in this article's introduction. Check it out at http://www.badapostrophes.com/2011/03/sports-sports/

if this is so important to the players,

and i believe it should be to them and the owners, why have previous contracts been agreed to that don't satisfy their now prioritized requirements? if it has been inadequate up to this point this falls on the shoulders of the union, leadership and players, and not just the owners. every single line item in a labor contract is the direct result of negotiations between both parties.

Hey Bad Apostrophe

Reliable sources have informed me that when Dave attended the county fair last summer, he bought himself a custom made, hand-carved wood sign that he proudly hung over his front porch. You guessed it: The Zirin's

cannabis

let the NFL players use cannabis instead of the other toxic man made drugs...

it's good for pain, migraines, ALS...

Ricky Williams has it right

apostrphe haters

i think dave's little intro isn't really what you're supposed to be putting thought into here. See all that non-italicized text? That's the content. Read it and think about how it impacts your own views on the nfl labor dispute as well as the health of nfl players.

Free Choices

Which evil government agency forces these players to enslave themselves and destroy their lives? We must find it and put an end to it. The greed!!

Oh, they choose it? They get paid? A LOT of money?

Why the self-pity? He could have chosen to quit the game? He could have worked at a JOB like the rest of us? For much less?

Oh, the horrors of free choices!

Oh, the silliness of the media for printing poorly reasoned articles.

Great Article

I think this really puts the whole issue in perspective. All the hate this article seems get is coming from the same kind of arguments right-wingers use against unions in general.

And the best part about the apostrophe business is that it's not even wrong. Grammar elitists move on.

Scott

Aloha Jaclyn,

Kudos to you for supporting you loved one and speaking your heart. F--k the nut cases if they can't handle your perspective. Your husband worked his butt off to get where you are, a level of commitment and sacrifice few could really comprehend or endure, day after day year after year. health care and retirement benefits are a small perk for what you have to give. I agree whole heartedly. My son has been passionate about his football career from the time he was small. He played in high school and now college. It is unbelievable what transpires even in high school. 14 hour days during season,concussions, injuries even at this level the football team is a cash cow. College?? Already a multi-million dollar industry, what do players get? Not much, most don't even get a scholarship. These industries are built on the backs of these players. NFL players are en elite group who ought to reap the benefit of their talents and grueling work. For those of you who are whining about your lot in life, well follow your dream if you have one don't attack those who made their dream a reality.

allha jaclyn

nawahine-- i somewhat agree with you about following your dreams an the injuries in hi school ancollege football--- but, the football industry was built ALSO, on the back s of the owners too--- without the owners-- there would be no nfl-- i guess, if the players in the dont like it in the nfl and the slavery,,, well,,, i wonder if adrian peterson, with his brilliant take last week, can speak canadian

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Dave Zirin is the author of the book: "Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports" (Haymarket). You can receive his column Edge of Sports, every week by going to dave@edgeofsports.com.
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