Brian Urlacher's Painkiller Use Depicts Bigger Problem in NFL

Kirk MangoAnalyst IJanuary 25, 2012

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - JANUARY 1: Brian Urlacher #54 of the Chicago Bears looks on during the game against the Minnesota Vikings on January 1, 2012 at Mall of America Field at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Early Tuesday morning, as I perused the numerous work emails needing my attention, my department head came into the office and asked if I had heard about Brian Urlacher’s recent comments, that it was all over the radio.

Being a suburbanite of Chicago, one very interested in the happenings in the sports world (at youth through elite levels), and one who has a vested interest in those happenings based on my forthcoming book, Becoming a True Champion, needless to say, my department head certainly sparked my interest.

“No, not yet,” I replied in response to his question if I had heard anything. He promptly continued, stating that Urlacher had admitted using the pain killer Toradol to keep him on the field playing.

Not one to jump immediately to conclusions, I Googled all I could find on what was said, what the drug does for players and what consequences surround its use.

It certainly did not take me long to find that players use Toradol to decrease inflammation (thus reducing pain), that Urlacher had been using it since his third season in the NFL, that its use might be fairly common among many NFL players around the league (being administered by the medical/training staff as they see fit) and that it is at the center of a lawsuit against the league by former NFL players who believe its use had increased their risk of concussions and the consequences from those concussions.

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - JANUARY 01:   Brian Urlacher #54 of the Chicago Bears awaits medical attention against the Minnesota Vikings at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome on January 01, 2012 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  (Photo by Adam Bettcher /Getty Images)
Adam Bettcher/Getty Images

Its effectiveness at allowing players to stay competitive through pain that might normally sideline them seems to be well accepted. Former NFL center Jeremy Newberry supports this likelihood, as he was quoted saying it “makes you feel like Superman for three hours" in Dan Pompei’s recent article on Urlacher in the Chicago Tribune.

Problem is, Newberry is now suffering from one of the possible, major side effects of Toradol use, kidney failure. That, along with gastrointestinal bleeding, appears to be high on the list of negative consequences in the overuse of this pain-killing drug.

Now, before I continue, I want to state how much respect I have for top-level athletes. It is extremely difficult to compete at the highest levels on a regular basis—not just anyone can do that.

And I am well aware of the amount and type of work high-level athletes must put in to become the “best” at what they do; the type of discipline, commitment and perseverance it takes to stare down adversity and put forth the kind of effort one must to even come close to their athletic potential.

However, even with all that said, and as much admiration as I have for an athlete like Brian Urlacher and the career he has had, I am having a heck of a time wrapping my brain around the idea (as inferred in the Tribune piece, "Bears' Urlacher admits he uses painkiller Toradol") that he would simply throw caution to the wind to stay “on the football field.” In the long term, it holds no logic.

CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 18: Brian Urlacher #54 of the Chicago Bears awaits the start of play against the Seattle Seahawks at Soldier Field on December18, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois. The Seahawks defeated the Bears 38-14.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Ima
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Look, again, I get it, I understand the whole concept of wanting to be the best, of being there for your teammates, of simply wanting to continue to compete and stay in the competitive arena. But not at the cost of your long-term health; not for that kind of risk.

And these NFL players, they’re not just using this pain killer once or twice, at least if the reports I have read are accurate. Many are using it like one might take an aspirin for a headache. Oh, got a headache, take a pill. Oh, got to play a game, take an injection.

Wow, talk about a loss of perspective. If this whole scenario with the use of Toradol doesn’t demonstrate the essence behind that statement, I don’t know what would.

And yes, I am well aware of that study done way back when where they asked a group of athletes if they could take a pill that would allow them to win a gold medal or be some type of famous champion but they would die five years later (or something to that effect), that many, maybe most, would take that pill.

Seriously, that boggles my mind.

Hey, I remember athletes, teammates of mine, taking cortisone injections in order to keep training and/or competing (and I am talking top level, elite, national caliber athletes here). I don’t know if the consequences are anywhere near as severe as Toradol; however, there were risks. From my understanding, you can only have a certain number of cortisone injections before it starts to weaken tendons and cause degeneration of cartilage.

Not sure I could have done that, most especially on a regular basis. I certainly would not have done it for my "job," not for a sport I love to play, not even if it meant winning a national championship. To me, it just wouldn't be worth crossing that line.