Detroit Lions legend Calvin Johnson abruptly retired in March, before later explaining that he cut his NFL career short because his body was starting to break down.
Now, in a new interview for E:60, the 30-year-old talks about an NFL culture that plays hurt, with players doing whatever it takes to stay on the field… including regularly taking painkillers.
“I guess my first half of my career before they really, you know, before they were like started looking over the whole industry, or the whole NFL, the doctors, the team doctors and trainers they were giving them out like candy, you know?” Johnson said in the interview (via ESPN). “If you were hurting, then you could get ’em, you know. It was nothing. I mean, if you needed Vicodin, call out, ‘My ankle hurt,’ you know. ‘I need, I need it. I can’t, I can’t play without it,’ or something like that. It was simple. That’s how easy it was to get ’em, you know. So if you were dependent on ’em, they were readily available.”
Johnson says the injuries piled up, and he wasn’t willing to take pain medication just to be able to play any more. During nine seasons in the NFL, all with Detroit, he underwent knee, ankle and finger surgeries.
He goes on to acknowledge that while he loves the medical staff in Detroit, he realizes that they are looking out for the best interests of the team, and not the individual (him). “The team doctor, the team trainers, they work for the team. And I love ’em, you know,” Johnson said. “They’re some good people, you know. They want to see you do good. But at the same time, they work for the team, you know. They’re trying to do whatever they can to get you back on the field and make your team look good. So if it’s not gonna make the team look good, or if you’re not gonna be on the field, then they’re tryin’ to do whatever they can to make that happen.”
He finishes his career second on the all-time list in receiving yards per game behind Julio Jones at 86.1. He also led the league in receiving twice and went to six Pro Bowls. In his final season, he recorded 88 catches and 1,214 yards, but despite still being a factor, he says he’s not coming back.
“I mean, who’s not gonna miss it, you know?” Johnson said. “It’s … you’re playing the greatest game against some of the best athletes in the world. You know, and it’s a bone-crushing game, and you gotta love that about it, because it takes everybody to do their job right in order for you just to, just to sniff victory, you know? So, like I say, I love it, I loved it. I left it all out on the field, I feel like. And had a great time, made some great plays that I felt like my fans will remember.”

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