Super Bowl has a Different Tone this Year with Disability Harder to Ignore

By: Emily Beitiks

The players in Sunday’s Super Bowl are participating in what is, essentially, a celebration of hyperability. Who can run fastest, throw furthest, and tackle the hardest? Football demands lives devoted to physical achievement and commitment to excellence. We applaud their sacrifice and ability to come back after being knocked down again and again.

But this year, a dark cloud hangs over the celebration: the American public has discovered that a variety of disabilities, physical and mental, develop after thousands of hours being battered in this high-impact sport.

Recent media has made it harder to neglect the ghost of football players’ future. Mostly, this has focused on the NFL league’s active concealment of the impact of repetitive concussions in a legal settlement between the NFL players and the league, a documentary, and Concussion, a major Hollywood film starring Will Smith.

At Sunday’s game, retired football star Joe Montana will lead the coin toss. But in an interview with USA Today, he shared that “It’s one of the things he can do without feeling pain, which is the daily cost of his Hall of Fame football career.” He listed a lengthy array of impairments from nerve damage in one of his eyes to knee pains that remain after countless surgeries, making public the aftermath of the game.

Are the less financially successful retired football players struggling with inadequate access to healthcare and assistive technology that so many disabled people face? Are they experiencing stigma and discrimination for these impairments and struggling to find employment?

With Superbowl 50 in the backyard of the disability rights movement, there’s no better time and place for these questions to emerge. As fans, we need to ensure that there’s more support for football players after the years on the field catch up to them.