To many NFL fans, Minnesota Vikings and New York Giants quarterback Fran Tarkenton was a gunslinger and scrambler who aggressively attacked defenses with his arms and legs.
Tarkenton, a mere 77 years young, can’t move as fast or throw the football as hard as he used to during his playing days. Now, however, he can attack with reckless abandon using his mouth and mind.
In a wide-ranging interview with USA Today published Monday, Tarkenton touched on a variety of topics.
But perhaps his most eyebrow-raising statements came when he addressed what he claims is the “biggest cover-up in the history of sports.”
According to Tarkenton, the use of performance-enhancing drugs in the NFL is completely unchecked and is ruining football players’ livelihood.
“Your leaders in the league don’t want to talk about it,” Tarkenton said, referring to Commissioner Roger Goodell.
Of note, the Hall of Famer told USA Today that he had no evidence that Goodell was willfully ignoring drug use.
The biggest concern for Tarkenton is the safety of today’s players. He believes PEDs are to blame for numerous safety issues in the NFL.
“It makes players bigger, faster, stronger,’’ he said. “The collisions are more violent. … So therefore the damage is going to be more.’’
Tarkenton’s last point is certainly a sticking point.
For all the efforts the league has made to regulate blows to the head, it might just be impossible to remove big hits from the NFL as players do, in fact, get bigger, stronger and faster.
But for Tarkenton, the players are bigger, stronger and faster than they’ve ever been because of PEDs.
“How do you think these people are so much bigger today than they were in my generation?’’ Tarkenton asked.
“I started seeing more of my [former] teammates … demented and that are living half a life, don’t know where they are. They’re in institutions and forgotten,’’ he said. “And I see these bright, young kids out there, playing their hearts out, and it’s euphoric and they’re making huge money and, bam, I see a hit and I say, ‘Oh, God.’ And we’re in denial, absolute denial.’’
Tarkenton also claimed the NFL’s PED problem is rooted in high school athletics. He said “handlers” target top high school prospects and the PED problems start young.
“These kids are going to die and not live a full life,’’ Tarkenton said. “You can’t tell me that you can take performance-enhancing drugs and do that to your body from high school to pro football, a span of maybe 15 years, and it doesn’t have an impact on you. You just can’t tell me that.’’
Tarkenton recalled an exchange he had with former teammate Mick Tingelhoff in Super Bowl IX against the Pittsburgh Steelers. During his playing days, Tingelhoff was listed at 235 pounds while playing center. There are some NFL safeties who tip the scale at 235 pounds today.
“They came out with their offensive linemen and their center and oh, they’re muscle bound,’’ Tarkenton recounted. “I said [to Tingelhoff], ‘What are they doing that you’re not doing?’ He said, ‘I don’t know.’”
Per Tarkenton, those muscle-bound Pittsburgh linemen paid a price for their steroid use.
“Well, two or three of those offensive linemen in Pittsburgh died in their 50s,” he said.
Tarkenton said the use of PEDs has “been going on — I tracked it — it’s been going on for years and years and years. It was going on when I was playing, but I wasn’t aware of it.’’
According to Tarkenton, the reason nobody has blown the whistle on the NFL is because of how much money the league generates for its partners and broadcasters.
The league disputed Tarkenton’s claims.
“The NFL-NFLPA polices are the longest continuous and comprehensive policy in pro sports,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy told USA Today via email. “The program is independently administered by world-class experts and laboratories and violations are addressed quickly and consistently with a mandatory suspension from play.”
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