Brett Favre in 2008

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Baffoe: Brett Favre Rehab Admission A Reminder Of NFL's Lack Of Addiction Concern

The NFL is an enabler that does little to help its troubled players get right.

Tim Baffoe
May 23, 2018 - 8:24 am

By Tim Baffoe--

(670 The Score) The horrid facts about a life in pro football away from playing the game itself have dried in our collective consciousness like a coal miner’s lung. But we can still be reminded now and then that the NFL employs players in meat-grinder conditions for massive profit and little sympathy.  

In Peter King’s final Monday Morning Quarterback piece for Sports Illustrated this week, he relayed a conversation he recently had with Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre, who was open about his substance abuse issues as a player, but not in the way King or most of us assumed. Recalling a week King spent with Favre and the Green Bay Packers in 1995 and particularly with the quarterback, Favre was forthright.

"Oh, I remember that week," Favre said. "You thought, ‘Man, this guy’s high on life.’ You didn’t know there was a reason for it. It is really amazing, as I think back, how well I played that year. That was an MVP year for me. But that year, when I woke up in the morning, my first thought was, ‘I gotta get more pills.’ I took 14 Vicodin, yes, one time. I was getting an hour or two of sleep many nights. Maybe 30 minutes of quality sleep. I was the MVP on a pain-pill buzz."

Vicodin is an opioid and one that Favre and most Americans didn’t understand in 1995 or really 2005 in terms of its danger. Today, the country has recognized as an epidemic and public health crisis the rampant spread of opioid addiction and deaths. Yet there was Favre more than 20 years ago living with and playing through an addiction that could have turned into something much worse, particularly considering that his employer was his pusherman.

How many Favres were there who weren’t the face of the NFL? How many are there today? A study published in a July 2011 issue of the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence concluded that among players: "Over half (52 percent) used opioids during their NFL career with 71 percent reporting misuse. Additionally, 15 percent of NFL misusers currently misused vs. 5 percent among players who used just as prescribed during their NFL career."

But does the NFL really care?

Former lineman Jeff Hatch became addicted to opioids after a back injury with the New York Giants, and after his back forced him to retire, he entered the league’s substance abuse program but described it in a piece for Yahoo Sports last September as inadequate, especially because he still almost died of an overdose afterward.

"The NFL needs to step up and provide services to its players to ensure they have a chance at life after football," Hatch wrote for Yahoo. "Many start to get some help while playing, but convincing a player to quit painkillers while they are playing is seemingly impossible because so many need those drugs simply to stay on the field to earn a living. The NFLPA-funded NFL Players Trust provides a substance-abuse program for retired players, but I feel its services are minimal, especially for a veteran battling an opiate addiction."

Many opt to drink away the pain the game causes their bones, joints and brains. After Favre’s second rehab stint for pills, he was still playing football. That means his body was still being punished, not that watching him play with reckless abandon every Sunday wasn’t very evident of that. If it wasn’t going to be pills, it had to be something.

"When I got out, I was able to control myself for a while," he told King. "I wouldn’t take anything for a day or two, and I wouldn’t drink. But I was a binge drinker. When I drank, I drank to excess. So when I went in the second time, to the place in Kansas, I remember vividly fighting them in there. They said drinking was the gateway drug for me, and they were right, absolutely right, but I wouldn’t admit it."

Favre went back into rehab for alcohol in 1998. He was never a domestic abuser like former defensive end Aldon Smith is, but Smith is a monster to others and himself while the NFL gets to pretend it’s not complicit in his creation. While the league has handled domestic violence issues among its players about as well as you’d expect a cartel to do, don’t expect it to examine any possible connection between some of the violence off the field and substance abuse anytime soon.  

Smith entered the NFL in 2011. His first of several alcohol-related arrests was less than a month after the conclusion of his rookie season. Last month, he showed up at the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department to get fitted for an alcohol-testing ankle bracelet and had a BAC of 0.40.

"If he can walk around at 0.40, he has to be exceptionally alcohol-dependent already," Dr. Keith Humphreys, an addiction expert and professor in Stanford’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science, told the San Francisco Chronicle. "That’s an exceptional amount of consumption. Anyone at that level has a serious alcohol problem.

"That amount of alcohol is the equivalent of the anesthesia for major surgery. A normal-type person would be blacked out unconscious and at risk of a coma."

The NFL was always fine with suspending Smith for his violations -- nine games in 2014 when an obviously ill man was accused of making a bomb threat in an airport and a full year in 2015 when that man again violated the league’s substance abuse policy -- but did it ever do much to actually help him get right?

When players are infinitely replaceable, the NFL doesn’t have to care about him or the people he might harm other than distancing itself from the bad PR until the news cycle moves on. Even if it’s pro football that has caused or exacerbated the addictions and violence of Smith or anyone else.

No greater is the evidence of the NFL’s dismissal of player pain and addiction issues than marijuana use. Former Chicago Bears lineman Eben Britton has described how smoking pot before games made him play better and feel better afterward. Former Bears tight end Martellus Bennett claims 89 percent of players smoke weed.

Yet the NFL and the NFLPA outlaw its use despite its increasing legality in America, proven medicinal purposes and player-preferred safety versus pills and booze. Last month, the league even denied free-agent running back and former opioid addict Mike James’ petition for a therapeutic use exemption, the first petition of its kind sent to the NFL.

If the league never cared about the detriment of a Hall of Famer like Favre -- who told King that his wife and agent got him to go to rehab, not his pill-pushing employer -- of what concern are the addictions and consequences of the average player? Especially if they point to an enabler.

Tim Baffoe is a columnist for Follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe. The views expressed on this page are those of the author, not Entercom or our affiliated radio stations.​​​