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Former DT Kris Jenkins Says Football Is Hell — Gives Good Insight Into Football’s Reality

Kudos to the NFL for actually linking to the NYT Kris Jenkins post on They've taken their heads out of the sand.

The NY Times, which has done great work on the NFL’s concussion issues, compiled some quotes from DT Kris Jenkins on the behind the scenes parts of football. He describes football as hell and gives some good details about what it does to the mind (foggy thinking) and body (chronic pain and numbness).

The first thing people do when they hear football players talk about the consequences of playing football is get defensive. Reactions range from uninformed ( “Well, they get paid a lot of money so…”) to wildly exaggerated ( “They know the consequences when they begin!”) to irrelevant ( “I don’t feel sorry for any of these guys.”) to blatantly racist (“Well if they weren’t playing football they’d probably be in jail.”)

Being the nice girl that I am, I’ve covered all those bases for you so that you don’t have to. That way, all you have to do is read Kris’ thoughts without being feeling pressured to say something dumb.

The entire piece can be read here.

Here are a couple of the excerpts that stuck out to me the most.

N.F.L. fans, people outside, they have no clue what goes on. This isn’t like playing Madden. This isn’t like being the popular kid in high school. When you do those things in the real world, and it don’t work out, you still have your health. The thing about football is you’re directly playing with your life, the quality of it and the longevity of it. The stakes are up there.

You ever been in a car crash? Done bumper cars? You know when that hit catches you off guard and jolts you, and you’re like, what the hell? Football is like that. But 10 times worse. It’s hell.

I got my first N.F.L. concussion against Green Bay, my rookie year. I jumped, and my feet got clipped, and I hit the ground face-first. Bang! No shoulders. No chest. Nothing. Just my face hit. I got up, and I had the punch-drunk feeling, seeing starbursts and feeling giddy. I knew where I was. I knew what was going on. I also knew I had my bell rung. I made tackles back to back, and I remember one coach saying, the way he’s playing right now, the concussion probably did him some good. I played the whole game.

The debate about concussions wasn’t there yet. I’ve had more than 10, including college and the pros. Nobody cared. And that’s the thing. We play football.

I remember one game, at Carolina, my second year. We played Arizona, and the double team weighed 780 pounds combined. They just kept double-teaming me, hoping I would fold and cave in. I didn’t. But that was probably the most painful day I had.

From the double teams, over the years, I wore the left side of my body down. I was past hurt. I was at the point of numb. Like my body was shutting down nervous systems, so I didn’t have to deal with pain.


I mean, guys play hurt, but it’s a choice. They do a pretty good job now, with all the scrutiny around concussions. On the line, it’s still painful. By the end of the year, half an offensive line might be getting shots, draining fluid from their knees. Most stay away from cortisone now, because it’s degenerative.

Everything gets off center. Bulging disk. Herniated disk. For linemen, it starts in the lower back. Throws everything off.

I can’t blame anybody for my death. I made the choice to play football. I made the choice to walk through the concussions. I could have stopped. I could have said, my head hurts. It was my choice, as a man. We consider football a gladiator sport because we understand you’re going to get hurt. You’re putting your life on the line. You might not die now, like in an old Roman arena, but 5, 10 years down the road, you could. You know that.

I wouldn’t change anything.


When we come into the N.F.L., we’re idiots. Because you’ve been groomed from childhood to think the rules don’t apply to you.

So this is what happens. You’re going to be warned. The first warning is the first meeting you have with an agent, when you realize this is real. My choices count at this point. I’m going to be prostituting myself for the next 18 years of my life.

That’s the first warning. The next one is that good old combine.

That’s when you realize, when you march in that room half naked, I’m a number now. They’ve changed the recruiting process to a percentage.

That’s what you are.

The third warning is when you get that contract. Most of the language in there is standardized. The gist of it is, stay in line, or else.

Your last warning is in training camp because there’s no learning curve. That’s when you realize that it all ties in together, and it will be that way as long as you’re playing.

I went through so much in Carolina, it was ridiculous. People checking up on us in clubs. Concerns with the locker room. John Fox was our coach. He was a big cliché guy. He’d say, do as I say, not as I do.

That didn’t make sense to me.


Right now, it’s more important than ever for guys to take care of themselves off the field. The Patriots do it right. They have an acupuncturist on staff. They do Pilates. That’s one secret to their success: recovery.

You can do a lot off the field. You can lift. You can run. But that trauma, that rattling, that impact, there’s nothing you can do to stop it. Your body is going to naturally react. Your muscles will tighten up. Fluid builds.

The unfortunate thing is the timing of the off-season. You don’t have enough time. You get a month off, and you use that to mentally relax.

But your body is still tense from all that impact, from all that pain.

I don’t think the science is keeping up with the changes in the game.

We’re not on grass anymore. We’re on turf, which is disgusting for fat people. I hate turf. It’s the worst thing ever invented for a lineman.

Your knees absorb the impact. It’s being bounced up through your body through the concrete. Into your lower back. Into your lower spine.

People don’t want to put up with the gunk and the mud, but that was one of the best parts of the game. Playing in mud, when you can’t get a grip, when it’s disgusting. That’s football. The entertainment value was just fine back then.

The thing is, when guys retire, then stuff happens to their body; they’re coming back, screaming like we’re the martyrs in all this.


My primary observation is that the more I read former players’ experiences in football,the more I believe there will be a point where society moves past football due to the brutality of it. Jenkins and other former players like Jamie Dukes and current players like Ray Lewis refer to football as a modern Gladiator sport. I think this comparison is valid for a number of reasons and just as society became too civilized for Gladiator battles it will at some point become too progressive for football.

Information is always the beginning of the end. The only variable is time.

When I was growing up, I was a huge fan of boxing. In fact, I wanted to be a boxer at one point. As I got older watching the sport made me cringe. I’m getting to that point with MMA however the repeated blows to the head in boxing made me more wary of it than the more total body sport of MMA. At any rate, I’ve heard a number of reasons given for why boxing is no longer popular. But what people rarely say is that society just isn’t into the raw brutality of organized blood baths anymore. And watching heroes like Mike Tyson and Muhammad Ali struggle post-career makes it much harder for some of us to enjoy current boxers cause we’re now hyper-aware of what comes next.

What keeps football relevant and growing is the distance between the players and fans. The padding, the helmets, the fantasy of it. No, football isn’t Madden, but IS Madden to the viewer. The guys aren’t real or human in any sense of the word to the average fan. They’re largely faceless interchangeable pieces unlike boxers who are bound to and thrive off the extreme individuality of their sport. But now that former players are coming forward telling their stories — not for money, not for sympathy, but just for your information-they’re pouring the warmth of humanity over a sports dish best served cold and nondescript. We’re inching ever closer to thinking about football the way we’ve always avoided thinking about it.

I love football, I believe it is the greatest sport on earth. I enjoy going to games and experiencing the energy of the crowds, the crack of the helmets, the flying turf, the intensity of two teams laying it all on the line. I get into the sheer enormity of something that was just supposed to be a small piece of entertainment. But would I let MY son play? Hell no.










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