Dominic Raiola ready for health decline

As we learn more and more about the connection between football and brain injuries, I've wondered when NFL players will start viewing their careers as a conscious trade-off: immediate fulfillment and financial security in return for future health problems.

At least one prominent NFC North player already sees his career and life through that lens. In comments I found to be sobering and shockingly direct, Detroit Lions center Dominic Raiola told reporters Tuesday that future memory loss is among the "rigors of this job," and that he would never sue the NFL because he understands the risk he is taking.

(Thanks to the Lions' public relations staff for making the audio available.)

"When you sign up for this job, you know what you're getting into," Raiola said. Later, he added: "I really don't worry about it. Those things are going to come. It's common knowledge that people are going to suffer. Memory loss is going to come. You're hit every time you step on the field.

"I'm ready for it. It's worth it. It's totally worth it. It's the best job in the world. I would never trade it for anything. I don't know if I can justify suing the league when I'm done. It's given me, up to this point, 11 years. Even though we lost for 10 of them, it's given me 11 years of fun.

"I don’t think when I'm at home in my rocking chair at 40, I don't think I'm going to be thinking about suing the NFL. I'll be thinking about guys I played with in the locker room and hopefully these good years coming up."

To be fair, many of the concussion-related lawsuits filed against the NFL claim the league didn't make players aware of the risks that Raiola is now very much up to speed on. Still, I find this an incredibly compelling issue on a number of fronts.

Would you give up a healthy portion of your life for intense fulfillment in another? And what impact would family and/or children have on that decision?

Many NFL players' top goal is to provide for their families. Is a lifetime of financial stability for them more or less important than a presumably longer period of health and involvement with that family?

And before you jump with a quick and noble answer, consider the myriad other ways a person's health can go wrong for reasons having nothing to do with football. What about the player who quits the game because of future health concerns and then gets hit by the proverbial truck the next day? How about a player who struggles to make ends meet for 50 years after college, putting his family through a lifetime of poverty? Not everyone would make that trade.

As jarring as Raiola's comments seem, to me it suggests there is a lot more gray area involved in the issue of gray matter. This conversation is only beginning.