We've heard about high-profile cases of players who have struggled mentally and physically after retiring from the NFL. Sports Illustrated's Peter King now provides another look into post-NFL life, by speaking with most members of the 1986 Cincinnati Bengals to learn about their quality of life 25 years after that season for a lengthy profile in this week's magazine (the online version of the story is available here).
The ages of the players from that team ranged from 47 to 62, and the condition of men varied greatly. Some -- like quarterback Boomer Esiason and wide receiver Chris Collinsworth -- have reached middle age with few lingering effects. Others have been rendered nearly disabled.
Interesting revelations from the piece include:
» Of the 39 players surveyed, 28 (72 percent) had at least one surgery during their NFL careers, and 16 (41 percent) reported postcareer surgery for an NFL-related malady.
» Twelve players (31 percent) said they have an impending surgery to address something that happened in the NFL.
» Thirty-six players (92 percent) said they are bothered by an NFL-related ailment from their years in the game.
» Seventeen players (44 percent) said they have memory loss, ranging from forgetting what they had for dinner the previous night to forgetting a conversation they just had.
» Thirteen (33 percent) reported daily headaches that they believe stem from football.
Despite all the sobering analysis -- and several examples of players who struggle mightily to get through day-to-day life -- nearly all the Bengals said their various ailments are a fair trade off for playing on the NFL stage.
"I'd do it again in a minute," says Ray Horton, a cornerback for the Bengals who now serves as the Cardinals' defensive coordinator. "(The NFL) affords a great lifestyle. Are there inherent risks? Yeah, but those coal miners in West Virginia and down in Chile, they have an inherent risk in their jobs. The soldiers who go over to Afghanistan, they have an inherent risk in what they do. Firefighters have an inherent risk. Are you kidding me? To play a sport I love the whole time and to just lose a knee—guys come back from Afghanistan with no legs."