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Pain Is My Companion

Realizing the game can shorten his life, Chargers' Wiley talks about what NFL players walk through every day.

January 21, 2003

I could die young.

I definitely know I'm going to feel worse at my age than my peers. So I can progress that thought to, hey, I may die before him. But I'm 28 and I've lived a 40- or 50-year-old man's life as far as experiences, as far as encounters. I've seen more than a lot of my peers. I've done more. I've had more opportunities come my way. And I think that's just going to keep multiplying.

Some people live their life in numbers, and some people live in per-day experiences. I'm kind of living life in dog years. One of my years is seven to somebody else.

I play pro football, and pro football is a business. It's the cost of doing business.

There are two mind-sets. One is, I'm a human being dealing with that pain. The other is the football realm and dealing with that pain.

I've had times in my career when I couldn't walk, but I played football. People don't understand that. You can't get up in the middle of the night to get some relief. You've got to have an apple-juice jar next to the bed just so you can go to the bathroom. But at the same time you can wake up and play the game at 100 mph.

Sometimes people don't know the meaning behind those big checks. I'll tell them, "Hey, man, would you stand on a street corner when you don't have the right of way and step out in the street 50 times a day?" We do that.

Yeah, adrenaline takes over. Yeah, it's a fun thing to do, so we don't feel the consequences of every action and all that pain. But it adds up. Mondays, Tuesdays, slowly over the course of your career. Finally, at the end, it really takes a toll on you as a person.

There are injuries, dislocations, broken extremities. I broke my pinkie toe, and I think a broken anything would make someone say, "Hey!" And it hurt bad. Yeah, it was terrible. But I played that week. I remember my coach saying, "You don't need your pinkie toe. You've got nine others. Lean on those." I was like, "I guess I will."

As football players, our hands are a mess. You come into the game with 10 fingers. With 10 fingers that point straight. You leave with hopefully half of them pointing straight. I'm down to five. Bruce Smith has no good ones. Looks as if he has a tennis ball in his hands at all times. You can try and mask it. But if one of your fingers is on a different plane, it's pretty noticeable. It's more cosmetic than anything, though.

I've seen a guy's bone split right through his finger. Bone out of skin, that's not a good sight. They've got a glove on and a bone sticking out of it.

Every week teams put out an injury report. You hear things like, "This guy's got a sprained ankle, that guy's got a groin pull." Trust me, these wouldn't be little bumps and bruises to most people. Those are things that would have most people staying home and filling out worker's-comp forms.

Sometimes you need a fistful of Vioxx. Any anti-inflammatory. You need it to survive. Vioxx is a beast. I love Vioxx. I'm going to invest in that company when I retire.

When you get a shot of painkiller, it's not like when they're taking blood at a blood bank. They've got to grind that needle in there. I mean grind it. When you've got an injury and it's acute, they've got to go get it. They can't just shoot you up on the surface. The guys laugh at me because I'm in tears when I have to get one. I bite on a towel and just try not to pass out. I hate shots. I've fainted on shots before, so anything like that kills me.

But like they say, you'd better get it now, because if you wait for tomorrow you're not going to want it. Your body's going to be relaxed, and you're not going to want it. You've got to get it when that adrenaline's flowing and you're pumped up. After you get it, there's some numbing and there's a placebo effect. You know it's doing something so you feel better already. I probably don't want to know what they're shooting in there, but it's probably some kind of anti-inflammatory. It's like a fire extinguisher. Something's on fire inside of you, and they've got to get that extinguisher in there to put out the flames.

Even some of the most common, mildest sounding injuries really hurt. You've heard about guys getting hip pointers? You know what that feels like? Oh, my God, it feels like a tetherball stuck in your hip. Just a bulge, like a grapefruit kind of stuck between your hip.

You have to shut down some of your responses. You can't shut down your response to certain things that are out there. If someone hits me in the head, it's going to hurt. It's going to hurt whether I'm Lawrence Taylor, Marcellus Wiley, Dick Butkus or whoever. What a football player must do is answer that response, which a normal person may not.

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