MJ: Given the recent murder-suicide by NFL player Jovan Belcher, do you think the league needs to do a better job on things like domestic-violence outreach?
CK: Not necessarily. I mean we have life skills meetings and outreach like that every single year during training camp. It's just like anything else; some guys won't take advantage of those resources. I think there's also a popular misconception in the NFL that if you go seek help for counseling you're going to be seen as weak, but I don't think that's the case and hopefully more guys will realize that now.
"I don't think you can change the NFL without changing society and having people value something different than watching big guys run into each other."
MJ: How about brain injuries? With all the new research coming out, what can the NFL do?
CK: The league is kind of in a no-win situation here, because what makes football so appealing to a lot of people is the inherent violence. I don't think you can change the NFL without changing society and having people value something different than watching big guys run into each other.
MJ: Is this something guys talk about in the locker room?
CK: It's more kind of gallows humor than anything else. You know, we get compensated very well because what we do is dangerous. It's less so as a punter, but for running backs and linebackers shit's on the line—they're killing their bodies in order to make their money. We recognize that, but what are you going to do? That's your job.
MJ: What can players do to protect themselves in the long-term?
CK: I think the NFL has done a lot to make sure that players will have resources after they’re done playing. We have a pretty good 401(k) plan, pretty good medical benefits, and guys are paid a pretty good amount of money. The NFL gives us financial-planning workshops; it tells us, "Hey you need to take care of the money because you're not going to be able to do this forever." And then ultimately that comes down to, do guys listen or not? A lot of the pension issues are from the guys who played in the '70s , '80s, and '90s. They are the ones that pretty much built our modern game, but they weren't getting paid for it at the time. I think those guys need to have some sort of safety net, because they didn't know a lot of what we know now in terms of concussions and traumatic injuries.
MJ: What's up with the recent NFL obsession with Adderall?
CK: For a lot of guys, it's a way to stay awake and pay attention during meetings. After three hours of running around in practice, the last thing you want to do is sit down and watch film and pay attention. Your body wants to shut down and recover. So I think for those guys it's more about trying to keep their mental edge while they're learning. Now that raises the interesting question of what do we consider a performance-enhancing drug? If it's enhancing your performance off the field in terms of film study and paying attention in meetings, do we classify it as a PED?
MJ: What do you tell kids who say they want to play pro ball?
CK: I tell them that it's a great goal, but have a backup plan. At the very least you have to get your degree from school because that will at least show people that you can finish something you set your mind to. The reality is that very few people will ever make it to the NFL. If you do make it, you've probably put in a ton of hard work and you've also probably gotten lucky. If you don't make it, that's not the end of the world. Don't let your life be defined by just one thing. You can't go through life saying, "I'm going to be a football player and that's it."
MJ: But there must be plenty of guys in the league like that.
"I think there's a small but significant percentage of guys where football is their only thing, and once they're done playing they're not really going to know what to do with themselves."
CK: I think there's a small but significant percentage of guys where football is their only thing, and once they're done playing they're not really going to know what to do with themselves. Hopefully they'll be able to find something, because otherwise you have all this free time all of a sudden and no way to spend it, and that generally leads to bad things. But I'd say that the majority of guys are really smart. It's a pretty decent cross sampling of society as whole. You have smart guys. You have stupid guys. I think most of them realize that this is not going to last forever.
MJ: If you had sons, would you want them to play football?
CK: I have two daughters. They're four and two. If I had a boy, it'd be tough. I'd say you're not going to play until high school. I don't think you learn anything in Pop Warner because your body hasn't finished growing yet. You haven't reached the maturity and the muscles and kind of the overall athleticism you're going to need to actually play football. Really, it's giving you more chances to get injured. You could play in high school if you wanted to, but be aware there are the consequences of what could happen.
MJ: Speaking of consequences, you've been tweeting a bit about warm winter temperatures in the Twin Cities. Can we expect a climate screed sometime soon?
CK: [Laughs.] Quite possibly. It's one of the things that infuriates me—people who say, "Oh, there's no climate change, just a local hot phenomenon." You can't argue with the scientific data that storms are getting more severe and droughts are getting more severe, and the planet is heating up. One of my favorite cartoons has one lecturer standing next to another lecturer saying, "What if we're all terribly wrong and we made the world a better place for no reason whatsoever?"
MJ: What else drives you nuts?
CK: Stupidity in general. Willful ignorance. Not being able to look at the long-term consequences of your actions and realizing what you do will have ripple effects down the line. It pervades everything single aspect of our society. Look at football. Football is a growing business right now and we're cutting funds to NASA and all sorts of science programs. You're telling me that us running around playing a kid's games is more important than our children learning? That, to me, is ridiculous.
MJ: So what's your likely career post-football?
CK: I have no idea. [Laughs.] Could be anything. There's a bunch of people who want me to write a book of some sort—maybe I'll become an author. Maybe I'll work at the game store I own in Southern California. Maybe I'll become an underwater basket weaver.
MJ: Okay, then what's your ideal post-football career?
CK: I'm actually probably leaning towards writer because I do it a lot anyway, and it seems much less taxing on the body than football. I haven't had a single hamstring strain writing an essay.