Not enough attention is paid to the warriors of old, who delighted us on Sundays, but now -- away from the lights and adoring crowds -- struggle to function through the day, mere shadows of what they once were.
New York Giants co-owner John Mara has been around the NFL long enough to have seen yesterday's stars advance into their 40s and 50s. Too many of these ex-players -- his former hires, in some cases -- go through life battling beaten down limbs or traumatic brain injuries. He acknowledged the league hasn't done enough to take care of retired players.
"For me, it's a personal thing, because I grew up with these guys," Mara told The Star-Ledger. "It's shocking to me to see guys who, when they were players, you'd say, 'This guy is going to have a good post-football career -- very smart, has his degree ...' And then it's 10 years later, and he's broke and out of work. It kills you to see that. It absolutely kills you."
A growing list of former players have filed suit against the NFL over concussions suffered during their playing days. Mara told the newspaper he wants to see these men helped, but he dismissed whispers that the league has willingly concealed research about brain injuries.
"I'm on the health and safety committee, we have more medical committees looking into it," Mara said. "We're just starting to gather more information about it. And I'm very confident we're doing everything we can do right now to find out more about it.
"But the notion in these lawsuits that we knew there were long-term effects and we withheld that information is ridiculous. Is there some kind of cause and effect? I don't know, I'll let the medical experts tell you that; common sense would tell you that there is. But to say we knew it and withheld it, I really find that objectionable."
We haven't heard the last of this. The game is changing before our eyes as the NFL and its millions of fans begin to see the long-term effects of a beautiful -- but violent -- sport. Mara's point is that the league, if it hasn't done enough, is committed to making things right, if it isn't too late.