"I don't know if it's toughness, or if it's stupidity, or if it's a desire to be on the field," Blackwood said about fellow athletes. "A little bit of it is maybe an addiction to the game."
An athlete's drive to win — even through pain — may never change. But at least the NFL and college teams have made some changes to the equipment. Dieterich's era in the NFL was particularly brutal.
"We practiced in the Pontiac Silverdome, which was a concrete floor covered by Astro Turf," said Dietrich. "We might have just played out in the parking lot for crying out loud."
Dale Hazard, a physical therapist and athletic trainer for the University of Michigan, says today's football players reap the benefits of better helmets, softer surfaces to absorb pounding and advances in athletic equipment that have improved safety.
Despite all the advances, he says, football's crunch is still dangerous — resulting in surgery, concussion, nerve damage and arthritis.
"Any other activity or job, OSHA [Occupational Safety and Health Administration] would have shut it down," Hazard said.