LOVERRO: In midst of Super Bowl spectacle, the wreckage of human lives

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I was thinking of Walt Sweeney this week listening to the tales of woe from New York.

I spoke to Sweeney, a nine-time Pro Bowl offensive guard, before the start of the 1997 Super Bowl. His life was a mess, and he laid it at the feet of football, charging he was turned into an addict during his time with the San Diego Chargers, where his career began in 1963 — a team that was known as the NFL’s candy store for drugs. It ended in 1976 when he pumped six rounds into his bed at Redskins training camp in Carlisle.

Sweeney sued the NFL in 1995, charging the drugs he had been given led to addiction, as well as cognitive and physical damage. He won a $1.8 million judgement in federal district court, only to have the decision overturned on appeal in 1997.

He was a pariah when I spoke to him. Gene Upshaw, executive director of the NFL Players Association, spit out Sweeney’s name like he was cursing when he was questioned about his former rival.

Today, Sweeney would have an entourage, going from one interview to another during Super Bowl week, selling the damage and destruction of football, with the NFL providing the stage for the show.

The contrast — parading the ills of the sport leading up to the game’s most important and watched contest — speaks to the arrogance of the NFL, an entity so powerful and consuming it can put its victims on display and not even suffer a dent in its popularity.

How many scrambled brains would it take for a moment of shame?

What would it take for the price of our entertainment to be too much to pay?

Dave Duerson put a shotgun in his chest and blew open a hole. That didn’t do it. Jovan Belcher shot the mother of his child and then drove to the Kansas City Chiefs training facility and shot himself in front of coach Romeo Crennel and general manager Scott Pioli. That didn’t do it.

I watched first-hand as a smart, intelligent man like John Mackey turned into a child from the effects of playing football. Yet I still watch. And I’ll watch on Sunday.

But it feels like lighting up in a cancer ward.

• Thom Loverro is co-host of “The Sports Fix,” noon to 2 p.m. daily on ESPN 980 radio and espn980.com

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