I enjoyed reading the saucy narrative invitation of the Rumpus ‘superbowl preview for people who don’t know football’. But the section on Justin Smith — the wounded SF player reminded me of cannibal capitalism. I’m understanding this as a move of self-promotion/financial gain via-the-suffering of the body. Cast as sturdy spirit in this piece, we get a more transparent view than normal about the bodily costs of success in the NFL.
During his first year on the 49ers, Justin’s defensive line coach Jim Tomsula saw him spitting out tooth fragments after a collision with a teammate, and asked if he wanted treatment for the chipped teeth. “Nah,” Justin grunted. “Hell, I got a bunch of ‘em.”
Partially torn triceps are a different realm than chipped teeth, however, and playing through this kind of injury can exact a dear tuition, payable in future surgeries, decades of painkillers, financial insolvency, and for the moment, having a known, exploitable bulls-eye on his right arm.
Former NFL fullback Lorenzo Neal, no stranger to injury in his own Pro Bowl career, spoke to a radio station about what Justin Smith should expect. “Guys are going to be hitting it, chopping it,” Neal said. “The triceps is mostly when you extend. He’ll have one arm to punch with, I think the other arm will be more to grab and wrap and tackle.”
“He’s going to be sore,” Neal adds. “And I know what he can do. They can put him on Toradol.” (Toradol is a potent non-steroidal anti-inflammatory) “Toradol, they inject in your butt. It’s a pain killer, it numbs the pain. You can play through it. Toradol, it’s candy. It was tea for me. I was taking Toradol like I was drinking coffee. You’re tight, you’re sore, and it relieves the pain for those three hours. We’ll see how Justin responds to it.”
We will see, indeed. Former player Akbar Gbaja-Biamila, writing for NFL.com, recalls, “One veteran player looked at me and said, ‘Take a shot of that and you won’t feel a thing when you play.’ I jumped in line, and that was the beginning of my Toradol dependency. After my first shot, I heard someone yell across the locker room, ‘Once you get on the T-train, you won’t get off.’”
The side effects are well known. Toradol rips up your stomach lining, and can cause vomiting, bloody stool, liver disease, and congestive heart failure. In addition, its pain-masking qualities make the player temporarily ignorant of further injuries endured while under the influence of the drug, with concussions and plantar fasciitis being among the most common collateral “side effects.” So, when the drug wears off, you may have a completely new injury, which can either mean surgery and the potential end of your career, or more drugs, and that’s not a choice that most players think over for too long.