Tuesday, May 8, 2012
Umenyiora speaks truth on safety concerns
By Dan Graziano
Last week, former NFL quarterback Kurt Warner did some radio interviews in which he said that, given the dangers that are becoming more and more evident all the time now, he'd prefer that his sons not play football. And former NFL wide receiver Amani Toomer, who was a teammate of Warner's with the Giants in 2004, went nuts on Warner, ripping him for being "disingenuous" and "trashing" the game of football. You can read a summary of that foolishness here.
Now, in case you hadn't heard, Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora is now on Twitter -- a development about which everyone in the football world with the possible exception of Jerry Reese and the Reese family is and should be thrilled. Umenyiora decided this morning to weigh in on the whole Warner-Toomer deal. You can read his tweets here on his Twitter page, but this is what he said, tweet by tweet:
"By the Way, Kurt Warner is Right to think how he is thinking about his kids and football."
"Its an awesome game and has done a lot for me, but i know when im 45 there is a strong chance il be in a wheelchair."
"If i can avoid that for my son, i will. But if he wants to play i wont stop him"
"Love Toomer thats my Guy, but he is dead wrong for attacking Kurt like that"
First off, that last one. Umenyiora is 100 percent correct about Toomer, whose reaction to what Warner said was way beyond wrong. Toomer acted as though Warner had been touring the country making anti-football speeches and publishing op-ed articles in major newspapers decrying the game. In fact, all Warner did was answer a question on a radio show and give his honest opinion about his own family. Toomer was so far out of line in his reaction that what he said was a hundred times more troubling than what Warner said.
See, as smart players such as Umenyiora apparently understand, we're in a time and a place in which we need to be having a frank conversation about football and the long-term and short-term safety issues inherent in it. "I would rather my kids not play" is a perfectly rational opinion to have and to express, and no one -- whether they played in the NFL or not -- should feel bullied into keeping such thoughts to themselves. Too often when we talk about football in this country, there is a chorus of tough-guy former players shouting down anyone who dares express something other than the conventional wisdom.
But as Umenyiora suggests, not only is Warner's opinion justified, it's an important one to bring to the forefront of this and all future discussions about the sport. Umenyiora expresses love for the game and doesn't seem to regret his conscious decision to have made it his life's work, but he seems to believe there's a "strong chance" it will land him in a wheelchair at a still-early point in his life. Those are very serious conflicting emotions, and the best way to allow those charged with reconciling them to do so is to encourage an open, honest and frank discussion of the attendant issues. I have no idea whether he's being overly dramatic with his wheelchair comment, but it's obviously something he's thought seriously about, and it's certainly worth considering in light of the current and growing emphasis by the NFL on player safety and the burgeoning awareness of the issues NFL players face in the years that follow the ends of their careers.
It's good to see a player as good and as prominent as Umenyiora -- one who was a teammate of Toomer's -- talking sense instead of talking tough. Because the important thing in all of this isn't whether you want your kids to play football or not. The important thing is that all sides and opinions need to be heard as football potentially confronts and existential crisis. This is about finding solutions, and figuring out the right and sensible way to move forward -- not about whether it's wrong to criticize the game just because you made money playing it. Here's hoping that what we hear from folks like Umenyiora helps folks like Toomer understand what this discussion is really about, and what the proper way is of conducting it.