NFL PLAYERS POLL: THURSDAY GAMES PUT PLAYERS AT RISK
By TOM WEIR
In an SOTL.com poll of more than 250 current and former NFL players nearly two-thirds say Thursday night games are a risk to the athletes' health and safety.
The impact of Thursday night games has never been greater than this season, with the NFL scheduling them for 14 weeks of the 17-week season, more than ever before.
Shortened recovery time that leaves players unable to heal from the previous Sunday's wear and tear is the primary complaint among the 63% of players who said the games are dangerous.
"Thursday night games are especially hard on more experienced players," said Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee John Hannah, who was a 9-time Pro Bowl selection for New England. "The older you get, the more time it takes to recover from games. Three days recovery is way too short a time."
Nesby Glasgow, a 14-year NFL veteran at defensive back for the Colts and Seahawks, said an added factor is the intensity of Thursday night games, when players know they have the national stage all to themselves.
"The physicality of the game and conditioning that takes place is for a seven-day cycle," said Glasgow. "You can always make a small adjustment and play on a Monday. Thursdays throw your body's recovering process out of whack. (Thursday) games are always played at a much higher level, therefore the risk of injury is heightened."
The team that so far has been affected most by a Thursday night game is perhaps the Baltimore Ravens. Their season-opener was on a Monday night, then they had two Sunday games followed by a Thursday game against Cleveland on Sept. 27. That's four games in 18 days.
"The simple fact is that anything that shortens the body's recovery time between games is going to make the players more susceptible to injury," said Hess Hempstead, an offensive lineman for the Detroit Lions in the '90s. "I'm sure there is a creative way to schedule these games where it doesn't happen regularly, but 3 1/2 days of rest between games is extreme. Normal rest is six days, plain and simple."
There were only eight Thursday night games in 2011. The Thursday contests have become a major vehicle for exposure for the league's NFL Network, which is the exclusive national television broadcaster, except for the Thanksgiving Day games. Some see the drive to increase NFL Network's revenue and ratings via Thursday games as being at odds with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell's assurances that player safety is a top priority for the league.
"Thursday night games have everything to do with money," former Indianapolis running back Paul Shields said. "Players' safety is a joke to the league and the commissioner. The body needs more time to rest."
That sentiment was echoed by Emery Moorehead, a 12-year veteran who, along with son and former Colt Aaron Moorehead, is part of the only father-son combination to play in and win Super Bowls.
"The money for the owners has become bigger than the safety of the players," said Moorehead, who was on the Chicago Bears' 1985 championship team. "They just want it on television all of the time, and the health of the players is not a consideration."
Moorehead also believes the heavier scheduling of Thursday night games puts the NFL at risk of overexposure.
"I think it does," he said. "It used to mean something when you reserved a Sunday or a Monday for football. It used to be special. Now the game is on everywhere all the time."
Former Chicago Bears tackle Bernard Robinson questioned whether the league is being hypocritical as it levies substantial fines for rough play, yet has a schedule that might be causing just as much physical damage.
"This is done in the name of making the game safer," Robertson said of the headline-making fines. "However, shortening the week players need to heal from injuries -- and yes, concussions from the previous week -- is supposed to be not as harmful to a player's health. I just can't buy that reasoning."
Thursday night games became an NFL staple in 2006, and for two seasons they began in late November. Then, from 2008-11, they were moved up to the first or second week of November, and the grumbling about quick turnarounds increased.
"It is a very hard game to even game-plan for," said Corey Mays, who played linebacker for Cincinnati in a Thursday night loss at Pittsburgh in 2008. "You might have one day of practice and then if you are the traveling team there is even less recovery. It is truly about the money being generated. They know that you are not fully recovered, and I am surprised there aren't more pulled muscles due to fatigue."
The league does make an effort to limit travel for Thursday night teams in the previous week, usually scheduling them to have home games. This season, only four teams playing Thursday night games will be coming off road games from the previous Sunday. None of those four road games takes the traveling team out of its home time zone.
Steve Atwater, an eight-time Pro Bowl defensive back for Denver, said the Thursday night experience can be survived with the proper approach.
"Coaches can't practice too hard leading up to the Thursday night game," said Atwater. "The team has to be mature enough to get by with 'mental' reps, from film and study, and jog-throughs," as opposed to typically physical practices.
Former Cleveland defensive back Stacey Hairston also put the onus on the coaching staff.
"Coaches need to adjust their practice schedules accordingly," Hairston said. "Practice by itself can be a health risk, if you want to go that far."
And Hairston did point out one positive of playing on Thursday: "After that Thursday game they have 10 days before the next game to get fully rested up, and extra time to get healed up."