Jeff Pearlman just wrote an interesting and provocative editorial here about one of the dark sides of professional football. In it, he interviews a former Oakland Raider who helped that franchise win a Superbowl in the early 80's, and was a pro-bowl star that today, almost 3 decades after he played his last game, he can hardly stand and walk.
The fact that the NFL eats men alive physically is not a state secret. The average career tenure of all players who get to actually play in an NFL game is less than 4 years. This is not hard to comprehend. When you have to block or get tackled by 350 to 400+ guys every week, not too many guys' bodies are going to be able to take that kind of punishment for too many years, particularly considering that they have all likely played at least 8 years already in High School and College, if not from the time they were in Middle or even Elementary School. Joints and Hips wear out; backs get ruptured discs. They don't call it "smash mouth football" for nothing.
What is surprising, and frankly disgusting, is the way players get treated once they retire. The disability payments from the NFL are abysmal for most players, with most players not even qualifying for disability. One would think that with the millions of dollars the NFL makes every year, they would be less chintzy with supporting their players after they become disabled because of their playing in the NFL.
And people wondered why Brett Favre got addicted to pain killers in the mid-90's. I never blamed him. If I had to take that kind of punishment week after week, I'd probably be on pain killers too.