Forrest Gregg's Diagnosis with Parkinson's Makes Case for Player Safety

Avi Wolfman-ArentCorrespondent IINovember 16, 2011

6 Sep 1998:  Former player and coach Forrest Gregg makes a speech during a game between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Tennessee Oilers at Cinergy Field in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Oilers defeated the Bengals 23-14. Mandatory Credit: Mark Lyons  /Allsport
Mark Lyons/Getty Images

Forrest Gregg's announcement today that he has Parkinson's Disease comes as little surprise. And that's the tragedy of it.

The Packer legend and NFL Hall of Famer known as "Iron Man" for playing in a then-record 188 consecutive games, profiles as the type of player we almost expect to have some neurological condition in retirement.

He played hard, he played often and he played in the trenches. It figures that he got Parkinson's disease.

The offensive lineman slammed his flesh-and-blood frame into opposing players on a weekly basis for sixteen brilliant professional seasons. Lord knows how often he did the same in practice, college and Pop Warner league.

The glory is great—Gregg won five championships and made nine Pro Bowls—but so is the sacrifice.

When we criticize the NFL for their intense scrutiny of hard hits, when we talk about how they're turning the league into "flag football" or worse, when we lash out against mini-camp restrictions, this is exactly what we're missing.

We're missing the hard lessons provided by Forrest Gregg and the legions of permanently disabled NFL veterans that preceded him.

Next time you jump from your plush recliner and rail against the inequity of a 15-yard penalty in the game's waning moments, think about Gregg's anguish. Think about a man losing control of his body piece by piece—losing the thing that made him great, the thing he once used to such devastating effect.

That's the salient image in all this, not some $40,000 fine and the consequent Twitter reaction of a millionaire who feels victimized.

Just like a mining company has a moral obligation to protect its workers against the hazards of the profession, so too should the NFL feel obliged to oversee the long-term health of its employees.

Forrest Gregg deserved the blessing of that covenant. He didn't get it.

We're not too late to save the ones that will follow.