This is an interview series in which we ask the plaintiffs of the NFL concussion lawsuit one question (and maybe a few more): Knowing what you know now, if you could do it over again, would you still play football?
Defensive back Doug Beaudoin was a ninth-round draft pick out of the University of Minnesota in 1976. Beaudoin played with the Patriots through 1979, with the Dolphins in 1980 and with the Chargers in 1981. From 1983 to 1986 he played with the USFL's Tampa Bay Bandits, and Beaudoin now lives in the Tampa area where he works in sales for the FX Marketing Group. He is one of the more than 4,500 former NFL players who filed suit against the league over concussions and other head injuries.
I think the last thing any of us ex-players want is to damage the game in any way, because we do all love the game. Regardless how we came out of the game, I think every one of us, just about to a man, would do the same thing.
What we want to do is teach the NFL a lesson. All of this could've been avoided. All it would've taken is a little compassion. All we need is health care. We need a decent pension. And we need a system that handles disability in a fair way. You can't tell me 99.9 percent of all disability claims against the league are false, that a slip and fall after we played caused all the damage to us. So I think the NFL brought this on itself, and it's a shame because it could've all been avoided because none of us want to hurt the game the way it's played.
Most of us have trouble recognizing the game right now, and I don't think I could play safety the way the game is played. The game I played, especially back in the secondary as a safety, you are a heat-seeking missile. You've got a great helmet on. You've got protection. You hit and destroy whatever moves. We were taught to use the helmet as a weapon. You know, it's not something we made up. That's the way we were taught. That's the way we were coached.
You really can't believe anything the league says, anything Goodell says, but they're allegedly trying to make the game safer. Now would they have tried to make the game safer without a $785 million judgment? No. It's called cover your ass. I think it's a good thing they're making the game safer, but it's an evolution of the game and it's almost reverting back to square one.
I think the older players, like myself, do want to see the game get safer. Now whether that's through technology, with equipment, or not using your head as a battering ram, or whatever it is, we would like to see the game safer. We don't want to see guys that are playing now end up in the same position. You know, when you're playing you think you're invincible. That's the way I was. That's the way these guys are. Twenty years down the road, they have no idea what they're facing. I mean, they just don't. The guys now are bigger, they're stronger, they're faster. You know, football's not a contact sport. It's a collision sport, and the collisions nowadays are more explosive than the collisions back when I played. You put more speed, stronger bodies, heavier bodies together, and that's just what's going to happen. So yeah, we'd all like to see a safer game, simply because you don't want the next generation of retired players going through the same things. But guess what? They're probably going to.
Growing up playing football, especially the longer I was in the game, I knew I was going to have sprained ankles and sore knees, bad shoulders, orthopedic things. And call me stupid, but I never gave concussions and long-term brain issues a second thought. Looking back you go, "How could you not put one and one together to come up with two, where you're ramming your head into people for approximately 10, 14, 19 years and you're not going to have brain issues?" I never put it together, never gave it a second thought. You know, you get dinged up, you shake the cobwebs out and you go back in there again. And I never put two and two together about the concussions. But you know orthopedically you could have some issues because you're always spraining something, tearing something, ripping something. And you go, "Yeah, long-term I could have issues here," but the concussion thing? It was never brought up. I never once heard in my high school, college, NFL career that all these repetitive hits are going to cause brain damage when you're older. Never once heard it. It's something I never thought about. The helmet was there to protect you. You had a decent hit. You felt okay. Occasionally you walk into the wrong huddle. You get dinged. But I never put two and two together.
There may have been something in between, but I think I went from the suspension helmet to the air helmet where they just squeeze air in there until it's form-fitting. It feels good. Felt perfect. You felt more comfortable. And yeah, that's just another aspect of, "Yeah, I'm protected, man." You know, when you hit somebody you didn't feel the rattling around like you did in the suspension helmet.
I feel pretty fortunate when I look around at 59 and see the damage that a lot of my peers are going through and have gone through over the last 10, 15, 20 years. Am I concerned? Hell yes. You know, your decision-making process is sketchy is best. My memory is not good. I do feel depressed more often than I should. So yeah, I'm really concerned. I did have an MRI where they came back and basically said they didn't see any problems with the MRI, but I guarantee you I have CTE. Unfortunately we're not going to know it until I'm dead.
I am at 59 years old, still gainfully employed. And I've been in sales, basically, since I got out of the league. Went from the brokerage business, which is basically glorified sales, to a marketing company here that is basically sales. I'm not nearly as good of a salesman as I was five years ago, 10 years, 15 years ago. I have cue cards all over my office reminding me what the hell I'm doing. I used to be able to sell a couple projects at one time. Now I can only sell one project at a time because I can't remember the other project and what exactly I need to know.
We're not looking for sympathy. I'm not looking for anybody to feel sorry for me because, as I said, I feel fortunate and I'd do it again. But am I concerned going forward, where five years from now it's going to be completely worse and it's going to be tougher and tougher to stay employed? Yeah. Yeah, I'm concerned about that.
I think it was a game against Earl Campbell where we've got 10-yard running head starts, so it's you and him, and you just go like a heat-seeking missile and hit whatever's moving and you take a knee. As his knee's coming up, to the crown of your head, it knocks you silly.
Now, the one that's the most memorable is one I suffered in the USFL. And I think I remember this because it was the last one. I played seven years in the NFL and three years in the USFL. I think we were playing Jim Kelly's team, Houston, and the tight end ran across the middle and, once again, we're both running full speed and we hit each other. And I remember lying on the field. This was my 10th year of professional football. Not much was moving. I was tingling all over. My head was ringing. And they went through about three commercials and I was still on the field, and I just remember lying there going, "I can't do this anymore." And it was toward the end of the season, 10th year, so your body's run down and beat up to begin with. And it took probably five to eight minutes to get the feeling in all your extremities: your legs and your neck and your arms. And I finally got up, got back to the locker room and said, "Enough's enough. Your body can only take so much."
Intimidation is part of the game. And that's exactly right. If you're going to convince a receiver through a hit to have alligator arms and not come around me again, you won.
I played within the rules and, you know, that's what we're paid to do. I think most teams had little bounties for hits and to knock people out of the game, but it's all in the rules.
I've knocked people out of games and I've knocked people out. And I've been knocked out. You're gladiators. That's what you're paid to do. And that really was the fun of the game. I have seen hits where I would like to get somebody in a back alley. I was actually on the field in Oakland when Jack Tatum paralyzed Darryl Stingley. I thought that hit was uncalled for. I thought the ball was well overthrown. It didn't need to happen. I never recall making a hit like that so, no, I don't have any remorse for any hits. And I don't blame anybody for any hits that I got. That's the game.
Knowing what you know now, if you had it to do over again, would you play football?
Yes. But I don't know if I'd let my kid do it.
Rob Trucks was last seen on Deadspin interviewing former athletes about the end of their careers. His oral histories with 49-year-old Americans can be found at McSweeney's, and his latest book is on Fleetwood Mac's Tusk album.
Photo via AP