‘Dad … was playing football worth the price?’

by Gary Shelton on July 12, 2017 · 0 comments

in general

Chidi Ahanatu ponders a great life and a harsh price.

Chidi Ahanotu ponders a great life and a harsh price.

Chidi Ahanotu played defensive end for the Tampa Bay Bucs for 8 1/2 seasons, then played for four other NFL teams before finishing his career back in Tampa. Ahanotu had 46 1/2 sacks in his career,including a 10-sack season in 1997. He was the Bucs' Franchise Player in 1999.l Now, he lends his thoughts to GarySheltonsports.com.

Wednesday, 4 a.m.

By Chidi Ahanotu

It's been 12 years since I last laced up my cleats and crashed my body for the thrills of millions in America and around the globe.

No more police escorts through crowds of wild, happy fans. No more chartered planes. No more million-dollar salaries. I traded it all in for making dinner for my kids, washing the dishes, and taking out the trash. Some days I wake up and think aloud to myself that I could still play ... at least one more game. Hell, even one more snap would be closure.

For guys like me there is no ticker-tape party celebrating my last hurrah. There's not even a ticker tape news alert running across the screen on ESPN notifying the world of my ensuing retirement from the game I played for over a decade. Nope ... just silence.

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The roar of the crowd is replaced with silence. No one calls to say you're done. No one calls to say thank you for your service. No one calls to say we won't be in need of your services any longer. No, there is just quiet.

This game of NFL football we all love is a tremendous sport. It has afforded me worlds I never would have dreamed of. It also has left me with a broken down body that creaks and cracks with gnawing pain. Even my brain, they say, has been damaged. Once, head coaches and general managers called me bidding for my services with promises of winning championships and Super Bowls; Now,that's been replaced by  researchers and doctors from around the country requesting to poke and probe and take samples and ask me to  donate my brain when I pass.

The ravages of the game leave you battered and broken. Like Humpty-Dumpty, they can't put you back together again. But you find ways to cope and manage your ailments. The hardest part is the falling apart. But once you understand what's actually wrong with you, it gets much better.

There are joints that rust over because you don't use them the way you did when you played football. There is cognitive disability because your brain has been smashed into moving train wrecks for the last 20 years of high school college, college and pro football. There is nerve pain all over your body from a short circuiting of your central nervous system that has been on the fritz ever since your last tackle or big hit.

Worst of all, there is a depression, because not only your livelihood and passion is abruptly taken away from you -- and to be no more -- but also gone are the adrenaline rush and the endorphin release that you've enjoyed from playing football since you were a kid. It must be replaced and, at times, it is replaced with negative influences such as drugs, alcohol and pharmaceuticals. Many of my teammates and  NFL brothers have endured this struggle. But in the end, no matter what, it was all worth it. Better to have lived the rush than to have never lived the dream at all, I guess.

One of my sons asked me if it was all worth it. See, he wants to follow in his daddy's footsteps and, God willing, he will. He can be one heckuva of player -- even better than I was.

Sitting here writing this op-ed at 5:14 a.m. in my mother and father's home, where I once crawled the floors as a baby,  I don't know how to answer that question for my son. Was it worth it?

After the lights go out there's no agent or coach or adviser to train you or teach you how to play this new game ... the retirement game. You kind of float around aimlessly trying to grasp this rude awakening since you've been unplugged from the Matrix and offered the blue pill or the red pill. Many times you want to choose being plugged back in to the Matrix. See you know now that it wasn't real but at least it's a whole lot better than this real world.

In the end, I'd have to say that playing in the NFL was indeed worth it. There is no other stage in life where you can perform in an arena of gladiators to go into battle the way the NFL affords a man. As we all get set to enjoy our favorite teams heading to training camp and the NFL season to come, it will be my pleasure to write to you from time to time to share the human side and the behind the scenes perspective of the world of the NFL and the politics of the game. I hope you all will enjoy it. But heck what do I know? I only played in the NFL for 12 years and on five different teams.

I'm sure you all know way better than I do. That's the beauty of sports. Everybody knows more than the next guy. At least they have the right to think so.

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