Chronic pain is nothing new to athletes. According to a 2020 University of Florida study, 90% of former NFL players report living with pain after retiring. That was true for John Matuszak, who sustained his first serious injury still during his college years when he suffered a minor separation of his shoulder while playing for the University of Missouri. The main blow to his health happened in the early 1980s, when a series of back injuries and subsequent surgery put the Oakland Raiders star on the injured reserve list for the entire 1982 season, as United International Press noted. In 1983, his injuries forced him to retire, per the report.
At the time of his death, his parents, Marv and Audrey Matuszak said in a statement that their son turned to prescription painkillers and other drugs to manage his daily discomfort, the Associated Press reported. “We are not unmindful of the problems our son had in his battle against chronic pain and his resulting use of drugs, both prescription and otherwise,” the Matuszaks said.
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In 1999, the Chicago Tribune claimed that Matuszak’s back pain contributed to his early death, criticizing the football culture that pushes athletes to put their careers above their health. “His back pain had not stopped when the games did… Football defined John Matuszak’s life. Then, and now, you could make a very strong case that football was partly responsible for his death,” the Tribune contended.