Rick Telander: From the NFL to Writing to Medicine

Apr 1, 2018

This story surveys the very soul of sports and asks the question:  What really matters about what fans watch and players play?

Our guide is Rick Telander. Rick played quarterback for Peoria’s Richwoods High School, Defensive back for Northwestern University, and started training camp with the National Football League’s Kansas City Chiefs.

Eventually, Telander exchanged playing football for playing with words. Telander became an award-winning reporter for Sports Illustrated and the Chicago Sun-Times. He’s written top-selling books, participated in sports-television programming, and contributed stories and expertise to documentary films.

Recalling his childhood in Peoria, Telander says: “We played in the woods, played every sport imaginable, from kickball to tennis, swimming, fishing—everything. We played—and play was this magic tonic to allow us to develop our carefree side, and to understand how the world works and how you become adults.”

Athletic prowess sometimes over-shadows other talents. Telander demonstrates a tenacious balance of cooperation and drive expressed musically through a rock and roll band called The Del-Crustaceans. That ensemble has entertained Upper-Midwest audiences since 1971.

But what really matters about the ways that Rick Telander plays?

In late July, 2017, Telander announced that after his death, his brain will be donated to Boston’s Concussion Legacy Foundation for research about chronic traumatic encephalopathy. C-T-E is the devastating result of concussive brain injuries that has been demonstrated in the dissected brains of 99% of former N-F-L players examined.

Telander notes that Americans love football and that violent collisions are part of the game. The question is: can football be made safe enough to play?

Rick Telander is betting his brain on science finding the right answer.

Until next time, for Stories Beyond the Scores, I’m Chris Reynolds.