By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Former Miami Dolphins tight end Jordan Cameron suddenly announced his retirement at age 28 on Friday after suffering four concussions in his six seasons as a pro. Now, he’s opening up a bit more on the subject – and potentially exposing an unfortunate reality among NFL players.
Cameron played for six seasons with the Browns and Dolphins. He really soared in 2013 in Cleveland, catching 80 passes for 917 yards and seven touchdowns, earning a Pro-Bowl nod in the process. He decided to retire after he suffered his fourth concussion as an NFL player in September against the Browns. He had his last big game in the NFL in Week 2 of 2016 against the Patriots, catching five passes for 49 yards and a touchdown.
The now-former tight end said that his constant thoughts of concussions affected the way he played at the end of his career. But Cameron’s most surprising comments came when he was asked about the common Combine interview question, “Do you love football?”
You may generally accept the notion that anyone who works hard enough to make the NFL and play in the league for a long time wouldn’t do it without an unconditional love for the game. But Cameron disputed it in a recent chat with ESPN, questioning the true motivations of other players across the league.
“I don’t think a lot of these guys love football, to be honest,” said Cameron. “A lot of them don’t. You play for other reasons, and every guy has their own reason. They know why, and as long as your ‘why’ is really important, you keep playing without really loving football. Because really, who loves to get hit in 10-degree weather by a 280-pound person? Really, no one likes that.
“‘Do you love football?’ I couldn’t stand when people asked me that.”
Cameron has personally interacted with hundreds of NFL players whether it’s on or off the field – certainly hundreds more than I have. So I’m not calling Cameron a liar.
But I can’t help but question Cameron’s comments on whether or not his fellow NFL players actually love the game.
In many cases, NFL players keep grinding through the devastating physical (and possibly mental) toll that comes from playing such a punishing game week after week precisely because they love the game of football so much. It sounds like Cameron is really talking about the consequences of playing the game, rather than the game itself. Surely, few NFL players actually enjoy the aftermath of the beating they take every Sunday.
However, there’s still a distinct difference between playing football without loving the consequences and playing football without loving the game itself. Based on Cameron’s remarks, he sounds like one of those who played for different reasons.
Cameron not only said that many NFL players don’t really love the game – he implied that there’s only a select few who truly do.
“There’s a few guys that love it. Ray Lewis loves football. Peyton Manning. They love it,” said Cameron. “But a lot of guys don’t really love this game, and there are players that will read this who will understand exactly what I’m talking about.”
There’s no doubt that some guys play football for a living simply because they’re good enough and not necessarily because they have an unbridled passion for the sport. The “get by on talent alone” types. It’s hard for players like that to gain many supporters among fans, as brutal and violent as the NFL can be.
Those kinds of guys likely exist in the league – just not at the level that Cameron implies. Players know the risks of playing professional football by now; for many of them, their love of the game may well be the one thing that keeps them on the field.
Matt Dolloff is a writer for CBSBostonSports.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect that of CBS or 98.5 The Sports Hub. Have a news tip or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff and email him at email@example.com.