The same drug that killed Prince and Tom Petty killed Tyler Skaggs, too. If you remember, Skaggs was a pitcher for the General Southern California Area Angels who died at age 27 in July without any warning (without any publicly visible warning, anyway) that he was in grave danger. The Angels honored Skaggs in all the appropriate ways that teams goes about honoring their fallen: a solemn public statement, a commemorative jersey patch, a preserved locker, etc. They even threw a no-hitter by committee in their first home game after Skaggs’s death (Skaggs’s mom threw the ceremonial first pitch of that game). Two months later, a coroner’s report sorted out the culprits behind his demise: alcohol, oxycodone, and fentanyl.
Fentanyl was also found in the systems of Petty and Prince when they died. It’s a synthetic opioid, one that the CDC says is 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine. It’s one of the drugs that doctors fed into my IV to help induce a coma after I underwent emergency brain surgery last December. I didn’t wake up until roughly two weeks afterward. After I left the hospital, I got prescribed Percocet—a mixture of oxycodone and acetaminophen. But I never took the pills, because they scared me to death.
A lawyer for the Skaggs family stated that an Angels employee may have had a role in facilitating Skaggs’s death. For their part, Major League Baseball has already begun talking with the player’s union to discuss testing players for opioids. This makes perfect sense. Over 40,000 Americans in 2017 died from an overdose of either synthetic opioids (like fentanyl) or regular opioids (like oxycodone). There were more deaths from opioid overdoses that year than from heroin and cocaine overdoses, combined. You probably already knew this was a problem. You probably know someone who’s been stricken by it. And if you don’t, well then you certainly know OF people like Skaggs or Petty or Prince: famous people who perhaps meant something to you in ways that are tangible even if you didn’t truly know them.
Baseball, rightly, doesn’t want any more of its players to die this way. And so they may end up testing players to make sure they stay alive. Baseball will do this for safety reasons and because, perhaps more than any other American team sport, it has had its reputation continually assailed over drug use amongst its players.
The NFL, by contrast, has managed to avoid lengthy drug scandals, mostly because it’s far too busy manufacturing even louder scandals of its own. Somehow the Pats doctoring footballs got more run, much more run, from people than a 2003 Carolina Panthers Super Bowl team that was positively guzzling steroids.
Opioids are, technically, banned by the NFL, which makes for a tricky policy given that players are prescribed those same drugs, often by team doctors, to treat various injuries. To my knowledge, no NFL player has ever been suspended for flunking an opioids test. The underlying offenses for such suspensions are technically supposed to remain confidential, though of course when a player tests positive for weed, the details magically end up on Adam Schefter’s Twitter feed before that player has even flushed the toilet.
In order to trigger the NFL’s red flag, the current drug policy states that players have to have more than 300 ng/ml of opioids in their system during testing. This is much lower than the testing limit for other workplaces. But even at the NFL’s limit, a large player would have to take approximately seven Percocet pills (a 5mg dose) to get himself suspended. That number of pills can do down if you’re a smaller player, like a kicker. But, and this is important, the number can go higher if you’re even bigger and/or if you’re not using opioids for the first time. No one in the NFL who takes opioids is doing it for the first time.
(Fentanyl is not specifically named in the rule book. When I asked the NFL if it counted in their opioid testing, I never heard back.)
There has been no talk of NFL owners getting together with players to implement stricter testing as a way of ensuring that no one accidentally overdoses. This is because NFL owners wouldn’t go bowling with the player’s union unless they got extra revenue percentages out of the evening. But, more important, it’s because the NFL runs on painkillers. I asked former NFL player and Deadspin contributor Nate Jackson how opiates manage to thrive in the league despite the restrictor plates the league has seemingly placed on them.
“It seems ineffective to test and suspend guys for the same pills that the trainers give them,” Jackson told me. “Too many fuzzy margins with how to enforce that. If you have been injured at all, gotten a prescription, maybe you have pills left over from the last bottle that the trainer got you and it’s been sitting in your bathroom. You play a game, and FUCK, that hurts, so you eat the pills. Also there are rogue trainers slipping guys extra pills and rogue doctors writing prescriptions for players. This happens with Adderall, Xanax, and Ambien as well. Guys get popped from pissing Adderall when their prescription says Ritalin. For these reasons, and because of the visceral immediacy of the moment; the need, the urge, the pain they’re in, I don’t think the policy you explained restricts a player’s use.”
Jackson said he cannot ever recall a teammate getting suspended for these drugs, though he was (or at least, was supposed to be) kept in the dark about the nature such offenses the same way you and I always have been.
Football is a game of pain, and so painkillers are a necessary lubricant to keep it operational. Painkillers are magic. They are glorified by the sport nearly as much as the violence is. That makes addiction an inevitable side effect of feeding the beast. Brett Favre is a recovering painkiller addict who once said he would pop 15 Vicodin pills at a time. Vicodin, née hydrocodone, is an opioid (a partially synthetic one), and you don’t have to dig very far down to unearth more of them across the league. Former linebacker Scott Fujita told the Washington Post that a team doctor once gave him a bottle of Percocet that was the size of a Coke can. Former fullback Charles Evans was regularly handed an unmarked envelope full of Percocet by the Ravens to take for his pain. Evans remained addicted to painkillers after his retirement and died of heart failure at the age of 41. His widow, Etopia, was one of 1,800 plaintiffs who filed a class action lawsuit against the league, separate from the now-renowned concussion suit, demanding recompense for the league from pushing these drugs on players. In April, a federal judge dismissed that class action, leaving the NFL legally blameless for the countless addicts it left at a farm upstate.
Ryan Leaf, himself an outspoken recovering addict, also got hooked on opioids after taking it recreationally in 2002, very shortly after his retirement, to ease the sting after he got booed at a fight in Vegas. He would remain an addict for eight more years. One time, he ran out of pills and grew so despondent that he cut his wrists. When that didn’t kill him, he was about to attempt sitting in a running a car in a closed garage when he his brother managed to stop him.
Leaf was hardly alone in his suffering. While the NFL has a history of flagrantly handing out these drugs to active players, consequences be damned, the retired players it leaves behind also get hooked on opioids to help soothe the football-induced chronic pains that will hound them to the grave. This is how the system works: you get paid to play football. If you’re hurt, you get pressured into playing hurt. If you’re playing hurt, you get your pills to help dull the pain, at least right up until you take your pads off. You find out the pills work and then you keep taking them, even after your career ends. After that, the league gives half a shit. There’s no opioid protocol for NFL players. This is one safety issue that they’d prefer not become a whole THING.
I, like a lot of other people, am now conditioned to wince every time I see a brutal head shot in the course of play. THAT is the football damage I have been told, rightly, to be scared of. But that damage is often paired with a form of treatment that can be equally catastrophic, more insidious, and long-lasting on its own. A lot of people are afraid of a football player dying on the field one day in the near future, but those people could be mistaken as to what the cause of that death might be. Over half of NFL players have taken opioids. You do not watch players take these pills, the way you watch them take brain-jarring hits. The seeds of their addiction are sown in the relative privacy of the locker room, or in the little pop-up medical tent, or somewhere else far from judging eyes. The NFL has no problem with that. As with the concussion crisis, the NFL is presiding over a lethal epidemic that they would prefer you not notice.
You should notice. You should notice the line connecting Tyler Skaggs’s death and the death of people like Charles Evans. You should notice that NFL vets only get five years of healthcare after retirement before being left to fend for themselves. You should notice that the football culture lionizes men who play while crippled while getting them hooked on the same drugs that ALLOW them to play while crippled. How many times have you heard a sideline reporter come bearing great news that a seemingly injured player is okay to come back, thanks to “treatment”? You should notice that the Purdue Pharmaceuticals is hardly the only multi-billion dollar corporation that either directly or indirectly benefits from people taking these drugs. You should notice the NFL not giving retired players free, quality rehab any time they’re in desperate need of it.
And you should definitely notice when the NFL decides to address the problem, if they ever do at all, by making October Opioids Awareness Month and having players wear orange cleats or something. You should notice that they haven’t explored real ways of ridding the sports of these drugs, either through other avenues of pain management (not playing football, of course, would be the optimal solution… but I doubt that’d be on the table), more rigid enforcement of their current opioids policy, and cracking down on those rogue(?) trainers and doctors who overprescribe such medications. You should notice that the NFL will never do any of these things because it doesn’t want to. More critically, it simply can’t. Painkillers are in the fabric of the game as much as the forward pass is.
You should notice all this. Because if you just celebrate players gutting out injuries thanks to both raw determination and mother’s little helper, you’re letting the NFL continue to leech off a devastating national crisis that has had its own significant role in propping up an entire sport. There are more side effects than just what you read on the label.
Special thanks to Nate Jackson and Dr. Matt McCarthy for answering my questions for this.
All games in the Jamboroo are evaluated for sheer watchability on a scale of 1 to 5 Throwgasms.
Saints at Rams: During the Saints’ pantshitting Monday night victory over the Texans, Booger McFarland was marveling at an Alvin Kamara run and used a phrase I had never heard before, which was “contact balance.” That’s a self-explanatory term for Kamara’s ability to stay upright and keep control over his movement even as he’s getting smacked around. That’s a great phrase, man. I’m sure it’ll fall into overuse, like “RPO” and “downhill runner” and “Mister Kroenke” have. But for now, I’m gonna savor this fresh (to me) cliché and bask in it.
Booger also said, “This is mano y mano” during that game. That wasn’t quite as arresting.
Vikings at Packers: Sometimes I call my youngest son “boy,” because he is a boy. The other day, I was like, “Empty the dishwasher, boy!” and he’d had enough.
“You always call me boy,” he complained. “I’m gonna call you MAN. Hello there, MAN.” Then he started laughing. I still made him empty the dishwasher.
Seahawks at Steelers: Sometimes I eat the pineapple core. You probably shouldn’t do this. But I’ll be cutting up a whole pineapple and the core is sitting there, free for anyone to take. I can’t waste it. Tastes like pineapple-flavored wood pulp. Good for the rectum.
Eagles at Falcons: Last week’s games were sloppy in places, to the point where even Joe Tessitore, who hypes up games like he’s selling you a bottle of Armor All, felt compelled to mention it during the Saints-Texans game (of course, he did this as a way of selling you on the very game he was announcing, which required no added promotion).
Anyway, despite the fact that Week 1 is ALWAYS bumpy, that didn’t stop people from being like, “And you people want to get rid of the preseason smh,” as if subjecting Carson Wentz to 30 extra preseason snaps would have helped round him into December form right away.
I’m fine with coaches opting out of the preseason altogether and perhaps forcing owners to finally relent and cut down the number of those games to two or three. If people think that dilutes the quality of play for a whole quarter every September, I have a solution to that, and here it is: Every NFL team starts the season with two games against an XFL team. These are not preseason games. They count. If you lose a game to the Tampa Bay Vipers in Week 1, you don’t get a mulligan for it. Tough shit. It’s still an official defeat marked on your ledger. By Week 3, you’re ready to play real NFL teams. There would still be 600 flags every game, but at least they’d be midseason holds and not clumsy, opening day holds.
Consider this a nonconference schedule to open the season. Before the advent of the CFP, a lot of college powerhouses would start every season by playing Samford three times in a row before getting into the meat of their schedule. No reason the NFL can’t deliberately set up the same cupcake warm-ups for their own teams. Would this result in awful games and an assemblage of XFL players dying on the field every Sunday? Yes. BUT THINK OF THE SYNERGY, MY FELLOW OWNERS!
Alternately, everyone gets to play the Dolphins the first week ZINGGGGGGGGGGGG!
Chargers at Lions
Cardinals at Ravens: I normally think every coach should go for it in every conceivable go-for-it situation, but I don’t have a problem with Kliff Kingsbury playing for a tie in overtime against Detroit last week. At first, I was definitely like KLIFF YOU ARE A FUCKING KOWARD. But I was misguided. For one thing, I like cheering for ties in general because it’s amusing to watch two teams I don’t care about walk away from a game oddly dissatisfied, and because any tie automatically triggers a reaction from the Pete Priscos of this world about how ties are bad and how the NFL overtime format would be better if we let the troops flip a rifle to see who wins.
More to the point, the Cards were down 24-6 in the fourth quarter of that game and had to get a TD and a two-point conversion at the end just to force overtime. It’s no fun to do all that only to end up losing after the fact. I know the Cards were 3-13 last year and proverbially had nothing to lose against the Lions, but fuck that. This is the NFL. Bad teams can turn good quick. The Cards have a new coach and a new QB and both of them had to eat shit for three quarters before finally getting their bearings. It’s not just a moral victory to salvage a tie out of that. It matters. You can even math it to prove it was a canny idea:
Also, Matt Stafford threw a ball directly to Tramaine Brock after the Cards punted it away, and Brock dropped it. Arizona could have easily won because of that. They should have won, if only so I could watch Matt Patricia eat his pencil in frustration. But at least they tied.
Bucs at Panthers: Last week, the Panthers got dragged for teaming up with Lowe’s, another billion-dollar entity, to buy a new lawnmower for a kid who was doing yard work around his neighborhood to help save up for college.
This falls squarely into the genre of Not Actually Heartwarming At All news stories, like when CNN tweets an item about a rural town raising money to help pay for a baby’s kidney dialysis. The dark underbelly of these stories always involves vulnerable people forced to raise money for shit they shouldn’t really have to raise money for. In theory, the Panthers should have just given the kid a fucking scholarship, and they were ratioed accordingly. But for every ratio, there is an equal and opposite backlash TO that ratio, as evidenced here:
Annnnnndddd now I’m depressed. I really gotta move to Amsterdam.
Jaguars at Texans: Two weeks ago, SIR Movement progenitor Keith Olbermann took a break from making coworkers cry at their desks and got mad at us for having the temerity to call a baseball manager a coach.
You know what’s odd, apart from everything in general? Coaches go by “Coach” as a nickname all the time, but the same is NEVER true of managers. No sideline reporter is ever like, “Manager Boone, does Aaron Judge ever hit his head on the top of the dugout when he walks down into it?” That would sound just wrong. Therefore, all managers across all sports should be referred to as Coach from now on. Let’s just make it consistent already. What’s Keith gonna do about it, besides tweet about how the Galveston Huckle Rays of 1911 are turning over in their grave pits?
Bears at Broncos: I should have mentioned this last week, but my GQ contract ran out at the end of July (I’ll still go back there from time to time), so I signed a new contract to write for GEN, a new magazine within Medium. You can see all the shit I do for them here. They asked me to do mostly politics takes. That, of course, is my forte. Everyone knows this. They know how knowledgeable I am about the ISSUES that affect us all.
With that in mind, GEN asked me to livetweet Thursday’s Democratic Presidential debate from their Twitter feed. All three hours of it. Oh god. Anyway, follow the magazine here to experience the MAGIC while I call Mayor Pete a hapless pud in real time! Beats watching Jameis Winston attempt to play quarterback again!
Chiefs at Raiders
Cowboys at Skins
Patriots at Dolphins: If you told me there was a Steve Belichick and asked me to visualize a Steve Belichick in my head, I swear that this is precisely the image I would conjure:
Steve used to have long, butt rock hair. This hair is better on him. He looks like he would jump out of a Ford Mustang and cut you with a butterfly knife if you ever made an offhand remark about his old man. YOU CALLIN’ MY DAD A CHEAT? THAT’S MY DAD! JOKE’S ON YOU HE’S FUCKING HIS MISTRESS ON A BOAT AS WE SPEAK!
Colts at Titans: Marcus Mariota threw for three TDs last week, which will surely account for half his total TDs all season. Normally, Mariota plays like a really capable backup, so it was fun to see him playing like an actual starter for once. He might just get the hang of this job by 2037.
Niners at Bengals: I’m not ready for John Ross to be productive. Feels wrong, really. My hope is that he goes back to sucking so that I don’t regret making fun of him all those times. THAT’LL TEACH THAT YOUNG MAN SOME MANNERS.
Browns at Jets
Bills at Giants
Pregame Song That Makes Me Want To Run Through A Goddamn Brick Wall
“Showerbeers!” by Bomb The Music Industry! From Thor:
This song harkens back to the days when you could smoke cigarettes in bars across the country and leave them smelling like a neglected child on a public school bus. Anyway, I had never heard of the concept of drinking a beer in the shower until 2008 when I heard the lyric:
“The only reason I take a shower is so I can drink a SHOWERBEER!”
You’ll likely recognize the opening sample from the seminal 90s film “Can’t Hardly Wait.” This song is 53 seconds of self loathing punishment where all bets are off. You can take a 53-second bong rip. You can shotgun a tallboy for 53 seconds. Hell, you could even butt chug a fine Pilsner for 53 seconds and get so shithammered you run through a goddamn brick wall while you watch the Vikings get their helmets rubbed in shit again.
Yeah, this song is under a minute and it has a fucking intro! That is bold. I admire it. Anyway, just my luck that I had to stop drinking the same year I find out about this song AND Coors Light runs an ad in tribute to shower beers. It ain’t right. I’m gonna have to go do a bong rip in a steam room to make up for it.
Gregg Easterbrook Memorial Haughty Dipshit Of The Week
I know I’m old because no one listens to my old man opinions anymore. Thankfully, every so often, bestselling author Jonathan Franzen pops out of his little birdhole to make me feel young again by issuing the haughtiest old man takes ever to come off the spool of a vintage Smith Corona typewriter. Here’s Franzen in The New Yorker—where else?—explaining why fighting global warming is silly, and why mankind should embrace a hot, fiery death instead.
If you care about the planet, and about the people and animals who live on it, there are two ways to think about this. You can keep on hoping that catastrophe is preventable, and feel ever more frustrated or enraged by the world’s inaction. Or you can accept that disaster is coming, and begin to rethink what it means to have hope.
There’s a germ of an idea in this article somewhere, about how false hope for improving the environment has lead to a form of complacency in ways that fatalism might not have. But really, all Franzen wants to do is frame this as a LITERARY dilemma, working the end of human civilization into his ongoing, writerly attempt to divine what this all, like, MEANS, man. Ryan Cooper put it better:
Novelist brain is real, man. When the idea of mass extinction gets you super excited about the potential turns of phrase you might be able to wring from it, you’re this guy:
Things will get very bad, but maybe not too soon, and maybe not for everyone. Maybe not for me.
Oh well, I’m glad YOU’LL be dead before the rest of us. Can you speed that up a bit? I have football to watch.
As a non-scientist, I do my own kind of modelling.
“I call it BEYOND scienceing. When there are no words and they should have sent a poet, they are talking about me.”
To borrow from the advice of financial planners…
Oh, do you not have many of those?
I might suggest a more balanced portfolio of hopes, some of them longer-term, most of them shorter.
I’m gonna ignore that suggestion and go burn a pile of Styrofoam instead. Let’s get on with this apocalypse. Can’t come fast enough!
Magic Johnson’s Lock Of The Week: Jets +2.5
“Last week I predicted the New York Jets would lose, and they did! But now I am picking them to win, which is different! Wow wow wow, these games can change! I know the Jets are injured, but that means now other guys get a shot! So excited for my trip to Bulgaria to meet Jurkic Hosflo, who’s harvesting blood from orphaned children to help power modern riverboats! Jurkic is a great friend! It’s an honor to be his guest for a tasting of exotic fig wines!”
2019 Magic record: 1-0
Fantasy Player Who Deserves To Die A Slow, Painful Death
I lost last week because I started Michael Badgley at kicker and he didn’t end up playing at all. That’s on me for not paying attention, but also: Fuck kickers. There’s a reason DFS doesn’t have kickers. They suck and they shouldn’t ever get injured. How the fuck you get hurt just kicking a ball? POP A GREENIE AND GET BACK OUT THERE, CHAMP.
Bad Local Commercial Of The Week!
Airport Plaza Jewelers! Straight outta Buffalo comes WNY’s answer to Marty and Elayne at the Dresden Room in Los Angeles. From Alex:
They have been airing commercials like these for years.
I bet they have. When you’re a drive-thru jeweler who can do a shitty Louis Armstrong impression, you milk it for all it’s worth. Your life is the REAL gold.
Fire This Asshole!
Is there anything more exciting than a coach losing his job? All year long, we’ll keep track of which coaches will almost certainly get fired at year’s end or sooner. And now, your potential 2019 chopping block:
It’s Thursday and I’m still trying to parse this quote from Jay Gruden after he kept Adrian Peterson in dry dock for the Eagles loss on Sunday:
Gruden still has about five supporters in the D.C. area, all of whom are enamored with the man’s supposed bluntness, even though he hasn’t won jack shit and has never earned the right to call out anyone publicly.
Anyway, even if you admire Gruden for having the caustic honesty of a decent HVAC guy, this quote still doesn’t make any goddamn sense. Peterson was the leading rusher for the Skins a season ago, coming to the rescue after second-rounder Derrius Guice got hurt (SURPRISE… he’s hurt again!). The Athletic reported that most people with the Skins believe Peterson is still the better option. And yet here is Gruden, blanching at the idea of playing his own capable back in a display of self-ownership normally reserved for his bosses. “Sure I could start a RUNNING BACK if we’re gonna RUN the ball. Like that day’ll ever come! LOSERS.” He’s done. He’ll be offensive coordinator in Oakland by December.
Great Moments In Grandpa History
Reader Ryan sends in this story I call THE OLD MAN AND THE SATCHEL:
My grandfather was blind. He had macular degeneration and lost his eyesight at 35. It didn’t stop him from having a successful career and being a loving father, husband, and grandpa. After my grandmother passed away, however, he was lost. He was fiercely independent (could use the microwave, empty the dishwasher, get the mail, etc) and stayed at their house for the 6 months or so after her death while his children got him set up to move into an assisted living facility.
As such, my cousins and I would stay with him on weekends just to make sure everything was okay. Once, shortly after I finished high school, my cousin and I were staying over, drinking his beer and watching tv. We were sitting at the bar in the kitchen at around 10:30 PM. My grandpa walks in. He was coming to reheat his always-present heating pad in the microwave. It was warm, so he was sleeping in a white v-neck shirt and boxers. We said hi to him, and, at the same moment, looked down and saw it.
Maybe unbeknownst to him, or maybe he just didn’t give a shit. His dick and balls were fully hanging out of the fly of his boxers. He seemed not to notice. He talked with us, heated his neck pad up, got some water, and wished us a good night.
I will never forget the sight.
And I will never forget the sight of it in my head. The important thing is that your grandpa never saw his balls that night. He was the real winner there.
Gametime Snack Of The Week
Crab salsa! You might think it’s a bad idea to eat jarred seafood that hasn’t ever been refrigerated. But for me, the action is the juice. The salsa was tasty. Excited to take things to the next level by trying crab honey mustard a week from now.
Gametime Cheap Beer Of The Week
Amsterdam Navigator Extra Intense! Because when you’re a navigator, you can’t settle for just REGULAR intense beer. You need shit that will ruin you good and fast. Reader Kyle explains:
Picked up a can of this dirt water in Paris after watching the USA getting their asses handed to them Friday afternoon at the Ryder Cup. Cost a Euro or two at an outdoor market that sold produce after dark. Its extra intensity can best be described as alcoholic off-brand soda. Still waiting on this 8.0% to kick in. #XXX
Won’t be long now! You’ll be dead on the floor within seconds.
Jim Tomsula’s Lifehack Of The Week!
“Ugh, my ass. You ever get that dirty ass? Here’s what I do for that, okay? First off, I scoop some ice from outside the 76 station. They charge you for ice but they can’t see you taking it if you never go inside. That’s an honor system, but the only honor system I care about is Larry Gumstick’s down in Baton Rouge. Larry has a code, and you’d best get with that code.
“So anyway, ice your valley down there. Then what you wanna do is rub some ashes all over it. Fine ash. Nothing chunky. They sell this stuff at like beauty parlors for hundreds! Foolish. I just grab a handful from Creamed Chipped Beef Mary’s fire pit, rub it good and hard, and suddenly you could eat Mary’s beef off of there. And I have! You’ve heard of shit on a shingle. This is HEAVEN on a shingle.”
Sunday Afternoon Movie Of The Week For Dolphins Fans
The Old Man And The Gun, based off a David Grann story in The New Yorker of the same name that I also highly recommend. This is Robert Redford’s final movie, which makes me sad because, between this and All Is Lost, Redford aged perfectly into movies where he plays resourceful old farts. They should have made him the Joker’s dad or something.
Gratuitous Simpsons Quote
“How many times can you laugh at that cat getting hit by the moon?”
Enjoy the games, everyone.