Browns wide receiver Josh Cribbs gets his helmet knocked off by Ravens long snapper Morgan Cox at M,T Bank Stadium in 2012. (Photo: Evan Habeeb, USA TODAY Sports)
Mark Snyder, USA TODAY Sports
Lem Barney is an NFL legend, a Hall of Famer who made his living playing football. And he wouldn't do it again.
Speaking Friday at the Sound Mind Sound Body Camp in Southfield, Mich., the Detroit Lions great said the sport would be gone within the next two decades.
He said he wishes he would have been a truck driver or a cab driver, anything other than a player suffering concussions.
"People often ask me do I miss the game, do I wish I could still play with all the money they're making today. Even with all of that, I'd say, 'Heck, no,'" Barney said. "The game is becoming more deadly today.
"It's a great game, and I think it's the greatest game if you like gladiators. It's the greatest game for yesteryear's gladiators. But in the next 10 to 20 years, society will alleviate football altogether because of how strong it's becoming, how big it's becoming and the tenacity that it already is. And it's only going to get worse."
Barney said he would "feel really bad" if he didn't say anything about what he knows.
He said he has been diagnosed in recent years with seven to eight concussions from his playing career. He said he shudders to see what the game has done to former players dying.
He told his son years ago not to play football, and he has been even more emphatic with his grandson, who will play at Barney's alma mater, Jackson State, this fall.
Barney's comments came while he was sitting on a panel alongside major college football coaches -- Michigan's Brady Hoke and Michigan State's Mark Dantonio among them -- all who appeared frozen as Barney attacked their profession.
Both tried to be respectful to Barney while pointing out that there's known risk in the game.
Dantonio and Hoke emphasized proper tackling and safety at the camp. Dantonio even presented a video on technique to the 600 or so campers.
Barney suggests removing the helmet from the game, but he understands that's not a reasonable expectation.
"You look at guys like Bubba Smith that left us, Dave Duerson that left us, Junior Seau as of late, that are killing themselves because of the head injuries they had," Barney said. "You hear about guys who played in championship games, Pro Bowlers and Super Bowls, but you don't hear about the regular Joe who plays the game and has killed themselves. The game is that deadly today."
Snyder writes for the Detroit Free Press, a Gannett property.
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