Last Friday, NFL wide receiver Brandon Marshall wrote an open letter to Dr. Bennet Omalu, who is credited with discovering the link between CTE and football. Omalu had written an op-ed saying it was time for society to do the right thing and not allow children to play contact football until they’re 18 and can make the decision as adults.
While Marshall respects Omalu’s work, he did not agree with outlawing contact football for minors.
“To be totally honest, that’s not an option,” Marshall said on CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “Probably 80 percent of our league, it’s guys that come from at-risk communities – the slums, the ghetto, the hood, whatever you want to call it. And to be totally honest, that’s their only way out. I know some people think that is a fairy tale or that’s what you see in movies, but it’s the truth. For me, football not only gave me an opportunity out, but it saved me from so much trouble. While I was on the practice field or playing street football, it kept me away from smoking marijuana, selling drugs, getting into any type of bad behaviors when it comes to guns. Those are the stories that you hear on the South side of Chicago and Inglewood, California, and the East side of Atlanta. Those stories, it’s not unique. It happens all over every single day.”
To be clear, Doug Gottlieb pointed out, Omalu didn’t advocate for eliminating football; he advocated for eliminating tackle football. Other forms of the game, such as flag football, would be okay.
“It’s not the same,” Marshall said. “It’s not the same. I never would have played flag football. There’s no comparison. To be honest with you, in my neighborhood, we didn’t even have flag football. In Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in my neighborhood, there wasn’t any flag football. There was only contact football. The first time I heard of flag football was when I moved to Florida.”
Gottlieb said that he dreads the day his 6-year-old son asks him if he can play football. Marshall says he does, too.
“I dread that – because it is a violent game and it is tough,” Marshall said. “When we talk about finding CTE in our professional athletes or in our athletes who play these impact sports, that’s real. It impacts all of us and that’s something that we need to take serious and change the way we approach our protocol, whether it’s on the field on Sundays or throughout the week. It’s opened up everyone’s eyes. It’s very thought-provoking. But at the same time, I know the reward outweighed the sacrifice. And for me, it’s opened up the world to me. And then I had my issues early on in my career and I was able to deal with those things. If it wasn’t for the NFL and having access to a hospital, having access to the capital that I had to be able to pay $160,000 for three months of outpatient work, I would have been a statistic. Once I discovered what was going on and what was holding me back, I was able to turn around and show my mother, my sister, my brother and so many other people.”
But Marshall is one of the top wide receivers of his generation. For every one of him, there are countless others who subject themselves to the same type of contact and punishment and agony who don’t make it, who don’t get saved, who are not afforded the financial advantages that Marshall now enjoys.
Marshall understands that, but he still wouldn’t eliminate contact football.
“Football is the only sport that brings 80-something people together in one room,” he said, “and you learn so much. The life lessons and the values that you learn from football is like no other sport. Football is special. Football brings communities together, it brings people together and it also saves lives. I know it saved my life, and it saved people in my family. It truly is my platform.”