Some players — including Grimes during his career — have coped with the injuries and isolation by taking addictive painkillers that numb the pain but leave them with dangerous addictions. Other players grapple with the depression that comes from being in constant pain.
Then there is the ongoing issue of potential cognitive decline caused by repeated head hits. The N.F.L. has changed many rules of the game to reduce the number of dangerous plays, placed independent neurologists on the sidelines during games and strengthened its return-to-play protocols. Even so, many retired players struggle with memory loss, impulse control issues and in some cases, suicidal thoughts.
Most players have heard about former teammates with these and other struggles and some like Luck want to leave the game before it consumes them as well.
Players of Luck’s generation now consider a more ruthless calculation of health versus money, and that is putting them in conflict with team owners, who are always looking for more football, not less.
As they did during labor talks in 2011, the owners are pushing to extend the regular season from 16 to 18 games, and to expand the playoff calendar. The players are once again pushing back. They made concessions eight years ago so they could get more time off in the off-season and fewer practices with pads during the season.
The owners hope they can dangle enough money in front of the players to get them to change their minds. The players, on the other hand, are pushing for the league to lift its ban on the use of marijuana for pain relief.
“The conversation around 18 games is absurd, especially when the league is talking about player safety,” Borland said. “Late in the season, when teams are still playing Thursday night games, the locker room looks like a trauma ward.”