Swashbucklers quarterback Alvin Bartie fumbles after being leveled during a game against Albany. (Karen Wink / American Press)
Last Modified: Monday, May 14, 2012 6:59 PMAs Alvin Bartie reached for the end zone, a giant thud reverberated throughout the Civic Center.
It was the type of hit that fans cheer wildly for.
However, Bartie never heard the crowd.
Instead, his world became fuzzy, his eyes blurred. He tried to play on, but soon after the Swashbucklers quarterback was on the sidelines.
His concussion would keep him there for the next two games.
“You try to play on because that is football,” Bartie said. “You want to be there for your teammates, for the fans. You keep playing because you love the game.”
Bartie, who is currently sidelined with a knee injury, has that old-school football mentality of playing through the pain. It was drilled in him during his younger days.
But through the years head injuries and the damage they can do to players later in life have become big news. NFL players are suing the league for what they call poor care.
The game is changing and players are becoming more and more aware of the problems they may see in the future.
“You think about it all the time,” Bartie said. “Players talk about it all the time. I don’t want to say you worry about it, but when you think about your future you do wonder if it is worth it.
“That is one tough question. For me it is, but for a lot of guys, they are starting to say no.”
For Bartie, it was his sixth concussion — he thinks.
He suffered for two weeks from headaches, dizziness and he “just didn’t feel right.” Yet, when he was given a clean bill of health from doctors and he felt better, he was right back under center for the Bucs.
“It’s what I do,” Bartie said. “Football is a violent game. That’s just the way it is.”
It is the risk football players on all levels have learned to deal with. Each man in the huddle realizes his career, or even his life, could be over on the next play.
Yet most of them play through their fears, putting future worries behind them and go on with the next snap.
“You want to say the politically correct thing, but we all know the risks we take,” said Bucs defensive lineman John Paul Jones. “We all know we are playing a game that each play is like a car crash. We know the game could hurt or even kill you.
“Each guy deals with it differently. Whatever the risk, the reward is we get to do what we love to do.”
Jones, a former McNeese State standout who at 30 years old knows his days on the field are numbered, admits the game holds a strange dilemma for players who are college-educated.
On one side, you want to be smart and do the right thing when injured. Then again, you don’t want to lose your job, so the pressure is there to keep playing. Jones acknowledges most of that pressure comes from within.
“You want to keep your job,” Jones said. “You do hide things from the coaches and doctors. That’s a fact. You have to be smart now, but everybody wants to stay on the field. That’s the nature and culture of the game.”
While that culture is changing on all levels, the violence and high risk inherent in the sport of football will always be part of it.
“Would I be happy losing my mind later in life, of course not,” said Jones, who has plans of continuing his career as a probation officer when he is done playing. “But I would not trade a minute of my career for anything.”
As for when Jones is ready to give that up, he is not saying.
Like all players, he wants to be able to leave the game on his own terms and not because of injuries. However, knowing just when the right time to quit is the hard part.
Far too many leave one hit too late and not one hit too soon.
“You do have to know when to get out,” said Bucs receiver Sammy Knight, a 28-year-old veteran who can remember days when the care was not so good for players.
“It used to be you get dinged up, you sit out a play and you go right back in,” he said. “Not now. The (trainers and doctors) are always watching you, making sure you are OK. It is much better than before.
“What we know now is that there is life after football, and I don’t want to forget important things just to play a few more games. I want to be right when I’m done playing.”
But despite the warnings and new education, it’s still difficult to consider the potential future dangers when the allure of glory is so great, as Bartie attests.
“It’s just hard to walk away from it,” Bartie said.
That’s why retiring from football has become the ultimate mind game.