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Cupping & Super Bowl Athlete James Harrison

Updated: Oct 20, 2021

New England Patriots linebacker James Harrison knows about pain—KNOWS about it. For more than two decades, he has been delivering and receiving crushing blows on football fields. The violence has taken its toll, including a serious back injury six years ago that required multiple surgeries. Nevertheless, Sunday night, at age 39, he will step onto the field for Super Bowl LII as the reigning oldest defensive player in professional football.

Last spring, photographer Fritz Hoffmann and I visited him in Arizona to document his offseason workouts (lots of power lifts) and meticulous health routine (no alcohol, refined sugar, or processed carbs). In between his mammoth weightlifting sessions, we asked him his secret for playing such a brutal game at such a high level for so long. “Ain’t no damn secret, man. HARD WORK, lots of hard work!”

Well that, and a lot of attention to caring for his body. Harrison said he spends about $350,000 a year employing a team of specialists, including massage therapists, acupuncturists, and chiropractors, who help manage the punishment his body endures. (He noted that it’s a tax-deductible business expense.)

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James Harrison, linebacker for the New England Patriots, poses with vacuum pump cups attached to his body at the weekly Chinese cupping treatment he receives to recover his muscles from his strenuous preseason workout in Scottsdale, Arizona. PHOTOGRAPH BY FRITZ HOFFMANN, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC
James Harrison gets cupping


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