Being a professional football player sounds exciting. Imagine hearing the roar of the crowd, the fame and the fortune.
The sound we rarely hear is the agonizing cry of pain after the game.
Picture a quiet flight back from a road football game that is sometimes interrupted by the agonizing scream of a player in a full-body cramp.
If you don’t believe me, take it from another Kleinsasser—recently retired Minnesota Vikings football player Jim Kleinsasser. At best, we are only distantly related.
According to a recent article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, some players deal with postgame pain by stuffing bags up their suit pants and beneath their shirts and ties. Aisles can be congested with other players receiving IVs.
“One second you look over and a guy is sound asleep,” said Vikings defensive end Brian Robison. “The next second, he’s jumping up and acting like he’s been stabbed. It’s bad.”
Face it. Young strong men think they’re invincible. As professional football players, they are used to sacrificing their body for the good of the team.
Concussions have received the lion’s share of negative publicity for football recently, but dealing with pain on a day-to-day basis is reality for many NFL players.
Before suiting up as a human battering ram, part of Kleinsasser’s routine was taking a pregame painkilling injection of the anti-inflammatory drug Toradol. It is non-narcotic and non-addictive, yet has several potentially serious side effects, which include kidney failure, liver damage and gastrointestinal bleeding.
One of its greatest advantages and biggest risks is that it can quell pain all over the body, making it possible for players to suffer serious injury, including concussion, without feeling it immediately.
And according to medical experts, Toradol use can increase the risk of brain bleeding if a head injury is incurred.
So why do athletes pursue fleeting glory for bodies that may be soon past repair?
To a large extent, blame it on a culture that almost requires players, no matter the extent of their pain, to be available for games.
Many football players exhibit a macho mentality. It takes stubborn persistence. Minimize the pain and be available to play, no matter what. If you don’t, another athlete will take your place on the field and it may not be easy getting your job back.
Linebacker Barry Gardner may not be a household name, but he played 110 regular-season games for the Patriots, Eagles, Browns and Jets. Today he helps players transition into the NFL, and later, into retirement.
Gardner admits to taking his share of Naprosyn, Vicodin, Oxycodone and Toradol when necessary, but he says he steered clear of painkiller addiction.
“If you get hurt badly enough on Sunday, come Tuesday they’ve got five people at your position working out,” Gardner said. “You can see that. And they make sure you can see that. You’re in there on the training table trying to get back on the field and here come five dudes through the training room to take your position.”
Kleinsasser was in a contract year at age 25 when he suffered a fracture after taking a direct helmet-to-knee shot early in the year. The injury, which typically has a recovery time of up to three months, cost him only two games.
How was that possible? Try painkillers, a football player’s best friend and worst nightmare.
“You miss a practice or a game and you’re going to hear it,” said Kleinsasser. “‘Awww, are you OK? You gonna make it, Barbie?’
“Part of that helps and forces guys to reconsider, OK, maybe this injury isn’t as bad as I’m thinking. We get ourselves into a mindset of, ‘Hey, I can get through this,’” Kleinsasser said.
Somehow, Kleinsasser played in every Vikings game over his final seven seasons—112 consecutive games. It’s doubtful he would have been able to without pre-game Toradol shots.
Former Chiefs fullback Tony Richardson said, “The NFL is all about pain.”
Football is one sport that reminds even the strongest that the human body has limitations.