Ex-Ram Bell decides football isn't worth the risk

BY JIM THOMAS
Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Former Rams offensive guard Jacob Bell says there were a lot of factors involved in his sudden and surprising retirement from football Tuesday. But at the end of the day it came back to this: He's in good health right now at age 31, and wants to try to make sure he can say the same thing when he's 41, 51 and 61.

In a telling statement of the current landscape in the National Football League — one of concussion lawsuits and Bountygate — Bell is retiring at least in part because of concern and the uncertainty over the long-term effects of head trauma.

"There were a lot of factors that went into it for me," Bell told the Post-Dispatch in a phone interview Tuesday night. "I've had a lot of fun playing. I've seen a lot of things. I've played in a lot of games. The reality is that for me it came down to risk and reward. I think you've always got to weigh that out. At some point, you've got to kind of figure out what you're in the game for.

"One of my biggest concerns when it comes to the game in general is my personal health. One thing that's obviously on the minds of a lot of people lately is brain research and all the stuff that's going on with that. One of the big things that I thought about when I was considering this is how much do I love the game? How much can they pay me to take away my health and my future and being able to be with my family and just have a healthy lifestyle?"

So after eight seasons — the last four of which came with the Rams — encompassing 109 regular-season games and 100 starts, Bell is calling it a career. He said he has contemplated retiring for the last year or so. But the recent death of linebacking great Junior Seau was the "cherry on top." In other words, it may have pushed him over the top in terms of deciding to retire.

Would Bell, who signed a one-year free-agent deal with Cincinnati less than five weeks ago, still be playing if Seau hadn't taken his own life?

"That's a good question," he said. "I've been thinking about some different things, thinking about health, thinking about the future of my family having to deal with some kind of crazy disease that nobody even knows about, where people want their brains studied after they're dead. Donating their brains to research.

"It's just crazy to see how someone like Junior Seau took his own life over — God knows what he was really struggling and dealing with. But you have to believe it came from the game of football. I want to get out before the game makes me get out, where I can get out on my own terms, and I can limit the amount of stress and negative impact that the game would leave on me."

The health concerns for NFL players obviously go beyond concussions.

"I played under a guy, Mike Munchak in Tennessee, and I used to watch him as he was running around the practice field for a half hour before practice, and I'd see the way he'd run," Bell said. "He played 13 seasons, he played all 13 seasons with no cartilage in his knees. And I thought to myself, I don't want to look like that. I don't want to be at the point where I'm jeopardizing my true health for money pretty much. For money and for celebrity."

In terms of concussions, Bell isn't sure how many he had in St. Louis or in the four years before with the Tennessee Titans. Then again, he wonders what the true definition of a concussion is and whether doctors, athletic trainers and other medical personnel have a true knowledge of what one is and how it affects the brain.

"Is a concussion, 'Oh, I saw stars.'?" Bell said. "Is a concussion, 'Oh, I got a little wobbly for a second — I'm OK now'? Or is a concussion, 'I got hit and I can't go back in the game because I truly don't know where I'm at and what day it is.'?

"If you're telling me 'I'm seeing stars' is some sort of concussion, then you're getting a couple a week. You're going to get a minimum 30 concussions in a season. That just gives you a ballpark figure of what people are truly dealing with."

If it were earlier in his career, or back when he was making $6 million a year for the Rams, Bell concedes it might be worth the risk. But at the veterans' minimum ($825,000) with the Bengals, where he may have been a backup and may have been asked to switch positions?

Bell decided it was time to move on.