Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher somewhat randomly fell into this week's news cycle via an HBO interview he did on the use of Toradol, a pain-killer. Urlacher admitted he has used Toradol, a legal and non-addicting injection, to mask pain so he could play when injured.
Urlacher added a star element to the story, which mostly focused on long-term health issues that could result from repeated Toradol use. But whenever the pain-killer issue arises publicly, I'm always surprised by reactions that illustrate how many fans don't realize (or ignore) how routine the use of pain-killers are in the NFL.
Here's how Detroit Lions linebacker DeAndre Levy reacted on Twitter: "*gasp* Urlacher gets injections of Toradol before every game?! HBO sports is really breaking ground. Sometimes I forget how little people on the 'outside' actually know what goes on in this profession."
HBO's "Real Sports" story was important because it advanced the story of long-term Toradol side affects. Hopefully it also raises awareness in public about the measures players take to stay on the field in a violent game. Players have discussed these issues publicly before, but I'm pretty sure it's an out-of-sight, out-of-mind thing for many of us. I'm not sure how many people are willing to accept how often the game they love watching is supported not just by raw toughness but also by chemically masking agents.
I recall, for instance, then-Minnesota Vikings center Matt Birk acknowledging he took several pain-killing injections during the 2004 season to push through 12 games with a painful sports hernia injury that eventually required surgery and contributed to a torn hip labrum that cost him the 2005 season.
You might think a pain-killer is no big deal. But you should understand that pain is our body's natural warning sign to pull back and give injuries time to heal. Pain-killers override that instinct but run counter to the body's healing process.
In the video below, former NFL players Damien Woody and Jerome Bettis acknowledge the use of pain-killers is prevalent because players want to be on the field for their teammates. But I would suggest there is also an economic element in play as well.
There is a saying in the NFL that you "can't make the club in a tub." Players know their financial future depends on their ability to answer the bell and stay on the field -- by any (legal) means necessary.