It was only an ingrown toenail – how bad could that be?
It belonged to NFL player Lawrence Tynes of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. This was the summer of 2013 and by then Lawrence had been playing pro ball 12 years. He had 2 Super Bowl Championships under his belt and figured he had five maybe six more seasons left in his 35 year old body – Lawrence was a placekicker. That would about do it and then he, his wife Amanda, and their two 7-year old twin sons would be set. They could see the finish line.
Except the toe got angry. It became red, swollen, and was oozing pus. No problem, team doctors would give him an antibiotic and that would do the trick. But it didn’t. Then a test came back. Lawrence had MRSA. Okay, so they would switch up the antibiotics – a total of 5 more times – but none of them worked out either.
His infection surrounded the bone but so far the bone hadn’t been penetrated. If that were to happen Lawrence would be looking at amputation – and the end of his career. Because as luck would have it this was his kicking foot.
Next came the operations, 3 in all, but that still didn’t get the MRSA out.
So it was back to the antibiotics but this time it would be different. Lawrence would be hooked up to what’s called a PICC line which stands for “peripherally inserted central catheter.” Powerful, potentially toxic antibiotics were dripped into a plastic tube that was inserted into his right arm. The tube was pushed through a succession of veins until it was resting just inches from his heart – all the better to pump the drugs hard throughout his whole body. Lawrence was going to have to live this way for several months which meant that he probably wouldn’t be playing football that season.
So his employer, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, made a business decision. While they agreed to pay him his base salary they decided he was not entitled to health or other benefits that his contract provided for, and thus the 2013-2014 season would not count towards his pension. Their reasoning was simple: the MRSA he contracted had nothing do with playing football or with the club’s facilities – in other words, it was not an on-the-job injury.
Except for this: 2 other Buc players and the team trainer had also come down with MRSA; Tynes had been training at the facility every day in the off-season and throughout the summer; and when other NFL players were stricken with MRSA in the past, the teams had always honored their contracts.
So with the backing of the NFL Players Association Lawrence filed a grievance against the Bucs to get them to honor the entirety of his contract.
How is Lawrence doing through all this? “I’m really scared,” he said. “I’m scared for my health, primarily, but when you think about football, I was going to be the Bucs’ kicker until I contracted MRSA. It’s the humanity of it – [the Bucs] not accepting blame and then trying to sugarcoat it with the salary,” he said. “That was their PR cover-up: ‘At least you’re getting paid.’ “That’s not the point. It’s wrong.” I don’t know what else is next.”
What came next was that on March 11, 2014, Lawrence was released from the Bucs.
His grievance is still pending.
And MRSA is messy.