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In league where head injuries are ignored, former Bear Desmond Clark questions NFL team doctors

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The stalwart ex-tight end is disconcerted about the league’s obvious medical conflict of interest. And he’s right.

Chicago Bears v Indianapolis Colts Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

I must say, I’m shocked that a league like the NFL — that dangerously and intentionally hid the truth about the link between football and brain injuries for decades — would explicitly omit any important medical information. A league that has prescribed painkillers to it’s players as the main fix for the damage they suffer in games for years, without any hint of directly facilitating a more reasonable treatment option like medical marijuana. Surely it’s blasphemous to insinuate the NFL doesn’t have the best interest of it’s participants in mind. I don’t see any evidence of that, no sir.

Enter former Bear Desmond Clark, who has something to say about the state of a league concerned only with it’s profit margins, and yet another player filled with criticisms that aren’t touched on enough.

Clark, who played 12 seasons in the NFL for the Broncos, Dolphins, and Bears from 1999 to 2010, recently appeared on Fansided’s On The Mark podcast. There, he detailed how he was mislead about the damage of painkillers by a Bears team doctor in 2008. How he let his trust in the organization that employed him lead to problems he never knew could happen, and of whom the Bears themselves never intended on giving him an improved understanding.

Clark seems to have adjusted well in retirement, and is leading a full life as a financial advisor. But he didn’t let this go lightly when given the opportunity to shed a light on what should be a more discussed issue.

“I was on the sideline one game, my stomach was burning, I was hungry,” said Clark. “Monday night I woke up in so much pain and I went to the hospital. They said I developed ulcers.”

Toradol, the NFL’s favorite anti-inflammatory painkiller, was being given to Clark to help with the frequent pain he garnered from football. Pills and injections he was prescribed his entire career, along with most NFL players to this day. Little did he know for as much as it’d help him get temporarily ready for games, it was tearing him apart with long term previously undisclosed effects after the fact.

“I was never told that could happen,” Clark said. “It was, ‘here you go, go out there and get ’em”.”

What Clark points to, and what has been a hot button topic over the past several years, is whether the NFL actually cares about the welfare of it’s players beyond it’s shady business model (it doesn’t). He doesn’t regret his time with football, but wishes some circumstances would be different.

Because if it hadn’t been a doctor employed by the Bears and was a neutral party individual, the easy and logical assumption to make is that they would’ve assuredly warned him. “Hey, there are some pretty serious side effects to this drug that only gives you a short term reprieve from the pain. Thought you should know.”

To think this type of exchange doesn’t still happen on a regular basis across the league would be naive. Regardless of how many players profess to know the risks and put their bodies on the line anyway. Unless they directly ask, the NFL — and doctors employed by NFL teams — have no obligation to give pertinent, pressing information that could save unnecessary headaches down the road.

1,800 former NFL players have sued the league in the past for organ and tissue damage caused by reckless drug distribution like with Toradol. Ask prominent league officials about this and it was on the players, not them, for not knowing.

“You gotta separate the people and the business,” Clark elaborated on his stance. “It’s so difficult and convoluted for retired players to get help. (The NFL) provides doctors and those doctors are chosen to deny you. I don’t think it is setup for the players to get anywhere.”

Team doctors aren’t there to preserve the long term health of players. The Bears with Clark in this instance aren’t alone. Players are business assets, nothing more. Team doctors are there to get them prepared for games, and games alone. A topsy turvy set of priorities in a league that continually proves it can reach even lower moral standards. You just have to give it a chance. Anything that happens after players are done with their football playing days is of minimal concern as it doesn’t impact the bottom line.

Any time you think the NFL has reached rock bottom, it can always go lower. Always.

If I’ve learned one thing about this league over the years, it’s that those in power will milk this cash cow for as long as they can in it’s current state, stomping on anyone that stands in their way. Or, stepping around problems effortlessly because they can. Remedying any glaring, long-standing problems is either too daunting for the NFL, or a waste of time to the all-powerful profit monolith it’s become.

Common sense would be individual teams hiring third parties to medically evaluate NFL players, active and former like Clark. But then those third parties — with no agenda — would likely deem these gladiators not physically fit to play after being exposed to the gauntlet of professional football. And so there would be no more of that milk, or heaven forbid, less of it.

In a league where brain injuries have been continually hidden — or ignored — and painkillers have irresponsibly been prescribed for decades, we all know where Clark’s sentiments ultimately lead. As it always has, the NFL gets to sweep this under the rug. There is no evidence of a conflict of interest, no sir.

Robert Zeglinski is the Bears beat writer for The Rock River Times, an editor for Windy City Gridiron and Inside The Pylon, and is a contributor to Pro Football Weekly and The Athletic Chicago. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.