I’ll always be a Lester Hayes fan. Dude would have to be convicted of smuggling children in zip lock bags for sale on the black market for me to stop being a Hayes fan. It’s one of those childhood things. He was one of my first football heroes and it was for one simple reason – Hayes kept it real.
Yeah, it’s a clichéd statement but with Hayes it is, has and always will be 100% true.
I was fortunate enough to attend a football camp in my youth that featured local pros from the Raiders and Rams back when both teams called the L.A. area home. Guys like former Rams QB Jim Everett and one-time Raiders running back Greg Bell were counselors at the camp and their general message was that football is a lot of fun. It was the other counselors, Hayes and Ronnie Lott that kept it real.
Lott looked every one of us dead in the eyes with a serious look on his mug and told us all, “football is war”. Hayes, who always addressed us as “gentlemen”, reiterated what Lott had to say about the game. He constantly reminded us that in this game you “sacrifice your body for the team”.
I can only imagine what the fallout would be in this day and age if a parent sent their kid to a camp with pros to be told to “sacrifice their body”. But that’s the game. No matter how the opinions of football may change the essence of the game remains the same.
I always admired Hayes for telling it like it was. He didn’t pull punches. Hayes wasn’t trying to trick us kids into thinking we were playing a game that was all touchdowns and postgame pizza parties. This game is a test of your manhood. Straight up.
So I couldn’t help but smile when I saw that Hayes is the “lone voice of dissention” in the current climate on concussion sensitivity.
Hayes did an interview with CNN giving his strong opinion on the multitude of law suits the NFL is facing and painted an all-too-real picture of what old school football was like.
To Hayes it’s the players, not the league, that are ultimately responsible for their own health.
“It’s all on the players, not anybody else, because the players have the same gladiator genes that existed in Rome over 2,000 years ago. They have a love of football to the 10th power. So the players make the final call. Trust me. No matter what they are told by doctors or anybody else, they will fight to play.”
That’s Hayes for you. He’s not going to shy away from telling it the way he sees it and could care less if it’s not a popular opinion. He’s also quick to remind you that his era was nothing like the era these players currently play in.
“Lord, have mercy. It’s so much safer to play in the NFL these days than during my time. We didn’t have any guidelines. You could actually lead with your face mask — putting your face mask on an opposing player’s face mask, without a $15,000 fine. You could throw a forearm shiver to the throat. People played with broken bones. Guys would carry smelling salt in their socks, so if you got a little woozy on the field, you’d reach into your sock for help.”
Most would argue that the Hayes mentality is that of a bygone era when there was no knowledge on the effects of concussions. Many will dismiss Hayes a dinosaur stuck in the past. Now to be fair there is plenty of merit to the current law suits. A league that has turned a blind eye to player safety has suddenly made it a priority largely because of the fear of legal action. The league does have some explaining to do.
But I still flashback to my encounter with Hayes who laid it out in plain English for a group of kids just learning the game. He didn’t pull any punches. He kept it real with us. If we were going to play this game then we had better be ready for everything that comes with it. Not a popular message but a real one, a message I still hold onto and apply to everything I engage in.