The all-access world we live in today gives those in sports and entertainment little room for privacy and can easily extend the "us vs. them" mentality that many in the limelight go through when pushed too far (latest example: Randy Moss). There is an argument that some of the greatest figures, at least in athletics, may not have had the careers they had because their off-field antics, from Babe Ruth to Mickey Mantle, would have been the subject of scrutiny that Brett Favre and Tiger Woods now go through.
For better or for worse, today's celebrity has more opportunities and far more challenges than ever before.
The converse of all that exposure today can sometimes be somewhat of a blessing. Years ago, a career ended and the star drifted off into the distance, many times never to be heard from unless an anniversary or an autograph show came one's way. Today the ability for an athlete to better use the spotlight for ones advantage in their post-career has never been greater, whether that is for broadcasting, endorsements or even for furthering business relationships. The warriors of the past were more challenged to find a full-time job and start over in a traditional field, and were left to usually telling tales in the local watering hole.
However, the new landscape is always changing in terms of access and opportunity, hopefully for the better, as those who played in the days of just radio and TV adapt to their new surroundings, new audiences and new opportunities. One opportunity for the names of games gone by is to have a new voice helping them through what can be a very traumatic life post career. In the past, our heroes would fade into anonymity for the most part, and that adjustment back to a normal life was very difficult from the after effects of too much time spent on a field or a court, or too much abuse suffered at the hands of an opponent. For reasons of ego, pride, even ignorance, scores of athletes went to their graves, many early graves, suffering in silence, or inflicting pain and frustration on those who may have tried to help them the most.
Hopefully now, much of that suffering in silence for the sacrifices of careers gone can also be a distant memory, thanks to a group of altruistic doctors and others trying to assist athletes to fix the physical and mental toll and sacrifice they went through during their professional careers.
One such group is P.A.S.T., a New York area consortium of physicians and health specialists, based in Clifton, New Jersey, who have donated huge amounts of time and dollars to the cause of assisting athletes who have little means or ability to help them. Last week at a press event in New York, the first class of P.A.S.T. graduates came together for a few hours that was part revival meeting, part cathartic experience and part information session. One after the next, from Hall of Famers like Don Maynard to NFL stalwarts like Randy Grimes, Christian Akoye and Ray Lucas, players rose and told their stories of pain, desperation and healing, all with the goal of praising their doctors and making the public more aware of the suffering they were going through after years spent sacrificing their bodies and minds for the games we play and watch.
Grimes, who spent ten years anchoring the offensive line at center for the Tampa Bay Bucs, teared up as he talked about being pain free for the first time in over a decade, while Akoye spoke glowingly of having a spine that was healed and a neck he could now turn without worrying of paralysis. The NFL vets were joined by both the NBA (in the presence of Retired Players Association head Charles Smith) and MLB (in the presence of former Expo and Retired Players Rep Steve Rogers) in lending their support and assistance to work on a unified front to bring the message of healing not just to NFL players, but to players of all sport.
The doctors come from virtually every field... Pain Management, Internal Medicine, General Surgery, Orthopedics (including Joint Replacement), Neurology, Neurosurgery, Spinal and Chiropractics... and their services encompass full diagnostic evaluations, chronic pain treatment and diagnosis, behavioral health services addressing issues such as addiction and depression, psychiatric issues related to traumatic brain injuries and much more. They form a team that assists the athlete for free, since many do not have the means with their pensions to cover the large medical undertaking. It is a team that has given selflessly, and was the vision of a corps of doctors who saw a need and felt this work with P.A.S.T. was an appropriate way to give back to athletes who could go on to lead healthy and productive lives and also be evangelists not just to other professional athletes but to fans and young people who see the glitz and the glory but not the sacrifice.
Now cynics will say that this is some form of hero worship... that these doctors could do the same thing for steel workers or the indigent who never had the benefit of the limelight. Others will say that many of these athletes willingly undertook the abuse and used whatever means possible to get ahead as athletes, and the resulting issues are what is deserved for a life of abuse. Others may draw a parallel, albeit unrealistic, that these men are not dissimilar to war heroes who sacrificed their lives for a greater good and now have the benefit of insurance and other health benefits. All of which may have some semblance of truth and will be a cause for debate for decades to come. However what is unfailingly true is that the athletes of today, those in the spotlight 24/7 and enjoying the millions in rewards that come with being among an elite group, do owe more than a small share of gratitude to those who came before. The bond between most military vets transcends time, but the bond between athletes of various generations is usually faded or uninformed behind a wall that is all about today, less about tomorrow and rarely about the past.
So what is the end game or the final result for P.A.S.T. and its team of doctors and athletes? The win in this game is healing -- healing for players who have been driven into a life of pain and neglect largely because they gave of their bodies selflessly for their profession. It is also in education -- education of a new generation of athlete who will take better care not just of themselves but of those who came before them. And yes it is about access -- access for the athlete to information to make healthy choices and access for the public to better understand that these men are warriors, but are also human and are deserving of the care and respect they desire even after the cheering stops.