Wise Cracks

Earlier this week New York Giants’ running back Tiki Barber announced that he would be retiring at the season’s end. What could compel one of the league’s most productive and popular backs to retire at the age of 31? In one word: pain. When a running back is handed the ball, he instantly becomes the target for all 11 defensive players, all of whom are looking to get onto SportCenter’s Top 10 with bone rattling hits. A running back will carry the ball between 20-35 times per game, for sixteen games a season. The pain that results from being manhandled by enormous men doesn’t fade quickly. The pain becomes cumulative, which means a ten-year veteran like Barber spends his days still feeling the punishment he took last week, the week before, and even the hits from last season. Many running backs complain that they can barely walk Monday mornings. Retired backs are always commenting on the permanent damage that playing football for years has caused them. The truth is today’s game is even more dangerous for offensive players than it ever has been, and the danger only grows with each season. Today’s players are stronger and faster than they have ever been before. If you’re looking for the definition of “freak athleticism,” just take a look at today’s average defensive end. The man probably weighs about 300 pounds and could out-sprint 90 percent of UVM students. All of this weight and speed is focused on moving bodies in order to inflict maximum hurt upon quarterbacks, running backs and receivers, and when they get their chance they hold nothing back. One of the defensive ends that is most hazardous to the health of his opponents is the Panthers’ Julius Peppers. Peppers boasts a 4.5 second 40-yard dash, a 37.5-inch vertical leap and an amazing 9 percent body fat to complement his 283-pound body. I mean, he even made the NCAA Basketball Final Four with UNC in 2000. Oakland’s Warren Sapp is another example. During a game in which he was playing with the Buccaneers, one of his teammates caught an interception, immediately turning Sapp into a blocker. Chad Clifton, an offensive tackle for Sapp’s opponents, the Packers, was on the end of a blind side block from Sapp. As a result of the hit Clifton suffered a severe pelvic injury, so severe that his surgeons claimed that the injury resembled that received in a car crash. With players gaining more and more raw strength every season, the degree of danger and pain players receive climbs ever higher. No less than four starting quarterbacks have left games this season with concussions. A player must understand every time he steps out onto the field he is risking his health. So maybe Barber’s decision isn’t so strange, after all, who wants to be hit by a car every week?