Now That He's Retired, Hines Ward's Biggest Opponent Might Be His Brain

When Hines Ward announced his retirement Tuesday, the focus was almost entirely on his extraordinary achievements, on his emotions, on his loyalty to the Pittsburgh Steelers, with whom he had spent all 14 of his NFL seasons (never mind Ward's vow to play elsewhere after the Steelers announced their intention to release him a few weeks ago).

But what's next for Hines Ward? Broadcasting, most likely. Sean Conboy of VICE envisions Ward going in front of the cameras to be "typecast as a mouthpiece for the dying art of smash-mouth football," a natural segue from the role Ward assumed throughout his playing career. But what else?

A few months back, Conboy wrote an excellent essay for The Classical about athletes' attitude toward concussions. This time, Conboy's take is more specific: a summary of the reckless abandon with which Ward played so proudly, and a sobering reminder that the bill will eventually come due.

As Conboy writes, Ward often told team doctors evasive lies about "neck injuries." He criticized teammates who disclosed concussions, once going so far as to scold Ben Roethlisberger about the subject on national TV. An autopsy indicated dementia had afflicted Chris Henry's brain at the age of 26—evidence that this was not just a malady for much older men. But for Ward, it changed nothing: As late as last season, Ward shrugged off one concussion in an interview, then had his helmet affixed with Kevlar a few weeks later, after he sustained a second one. "Aspirin for a brain tumor," Conboy says wryly. Hold this brutal reality of the league up against the NFL of Roger Goodell's imagination and then wonder just what "integrity" Goodell thinks he's defending when he suspends Sean Payton for a season. Hines Ward didn't need a bounty to play a violent game violently. Conboy writes:

He'd long been the hunter, and that wager turned a slow, undersized, half-Asian former quarterback into an NFL legend. But now Ward has to face the shadows that came for his predecessors. No one to hit. No one to lie to. Just studio lights and the voice inside his head.

The headline on Conboy's piece refers to Ward as "a ticking time bomb." It's a grim assessment, but it's difficult to disagree.

Photo via AP
Hines Ward Is A Ticking Time Bomb [VICE]