STEVE SMITH, 50, fullback with the LA Raiders and Seattle, 1987-95, has been afflicted with ALS since July 2002. He cannot speak because of a ventilator and receives food through a feeding tube. He communicates by using his eyes to control a computer’s voice-activated system. In addition to medical professionals, he’s cared for by his wife Chie and son Dante, who also played football and said of his father: “…he’s a prisoner in his own body…” As recently as December 2012 the captain of the 1986 Penn State national championship team was able to stand with the assistance of Dante and a therapist. Smith has not given up hope of being cured and pushes to try any new medical procedure that could possibly help him. He has received enormous support from the Penn State community. Boston University neuropathologist Ann McKee says that brain damage can lead to ALS. Toxic proteins that form after brain trauma and lead to depression and dementia may also cause ALS. Though ALS strikes only 1 in 100,000 in the general population, the disease afflicts athletes in far greater numbers, slowly destroying the muscles and leading to death by respiratory failure. Donations for Smith can be made by calling 1-800-242-0335. —“Boston University study by Ann McKee finds link between concussions and Lou Gehrig’s disease”, NYDailyNews.com 8/17/10, Michael O’Keefe. “Penn State’s Steve Smith still amazes from his hospital bed”, ydr.com 12/24/12, York Daily Record, Frank Bodani.
TREVOR DAVIS & CHRIS HARPER, junior receivers with the University of California, both suffered scary, game-stopping injuries versus UCLA on 10/18/14. Davis was tackled on a kickoff by 2 UCLA players, with linebacker Ryan Hofmeister landing on Davis’s back. Though it appeared to be an ordinary takedown, Davis remained down for nearly 15 minutes as teammates kneeled in vigil and the medical staff evaluated his condition. Once lodged on a gurney, he began talking and moving his hands, and raised his right arm to the crowd’s roar. Harper later received a pass and stumbled awkwardly with his back to onrushing defenders and was hit in the neck by defensive back Jaleel Wadood’s helmet. Though the hit was apparently illegal, no penalty was called. He lay motionless on the ground before 49,000 silent people for nearly 5 minutes before rising to his feet. Harper suffered a bruised back, did not require hospitalization, and played the rest of the season. Davis was briefly hospitalized and released with a “jammed neck,” which sidelined him more than a month.—“2 scary injuries cast pall on game”, SF Chronicle 10/19/14, Bruce Jenkins.
DARRYL TALLEY, 54, linebacker with Buffalo, Atlanta and Minnesota, 1983-96, has told The Buffalo News that he is suffering from depression and has contemplated suicide in what he considers side-effects from his hard-hitting playing days. A key player on the Buffalo teams that went to 4 consecutive Super Bowls, he says he’s had too many concussions to count and at least 75 times he saw flashes of light after being hit. He has memory loss, trouble sleeping, and lives in constant pain as a result of 14 operations he had during his playing days to repair various injuries. Financially, Talley has had trouble making ends meet since the company he owned closed in 2008 and has received financial assistance from former teammates. “It would be easy to call it a day…I’m convinced I’m not dead yet. But the future doesn’t look bright.”—“Former Bills star Talley suffers from depression”, AP NFL website 11/28/14. 11/29/14 Update: According to ESPN.com, within 2 days of Talley’s press conference Buffalo Bills fans had raised over $100,000 to help him. Contributions can be made at http://www.gofundme.com/hvkgjo
SHANE MORRIS, 20, quarterback with Michigan, 2013-14, suffered a concussion on a helmet-to-chin hit during a loss to Minnesota on 9/27/14, was left in to play and later re-inserted into the game without proper neurological testing. Due to a breakdown in communication between coaches and medical personnel—many of whom did not see the hit—Morris was examined for an ankle injury and not his head injury. The hit was clearly seen on ESPN2, replayed and called “a concussion hit” by analyst Ed Cunningham, who called Michigan’s player management of Morris “appalling” and “atrocious.” The incident led to the resignation of athletic director Dave Brandon.—“Michigan AD apologizes, says Shane Morris had a concussion”, CBSsports.com 9/30/14, Jon Solomon.
Boston University researcher Robert Stern said that many of the 76 deceased NFL players found to have CTE would not have qualified for awards under the $765 million concussion settlement had they lived, because some never developed dementia, Alzheimer’s and other neurological problems covered. Retirees who exhibit mood swings, aggression, depression or other aberrant behavior, which can be indicators of CTE, would not be compensated.—“Concussions”, Chronicle News Services 10/9/14.
LeBron James says he doesn’t want his sons, LeBron Jr. and Bryce, to play organized football because of safety concerns. “We don’t want them to play…right now until they understand how physical and body demanding the game is. Then they can have their choice in high school, we’ll talk it over.” James was an All-Ohio wide receiver in high school.—AP 11/14/14.
ROGER STAUBACH, 72, quarterback with Dallas, 1969-79, suffered approximately 20 concussions, including one in his last game, after which he had his first CT scan. The doctor recommended he retire, so he did, despite a $750,000 per year offer for 2 years from Dallas, among the highest salaries in the league then. He also had surgeries on both shoulders and 2 fingers and his meniscus. The 2-time Super Bowl champion and MVP works out 6 days a week and feels no impact from his concussions so far. Forbes named him the highest-paid former NFL player, with $12 million earned in 2013. Of Staubach’s 15 grandchildren and one great-grandchild, only one plays tackle football, an 11-year-old grandson. Though Staubach doesn’t hold any ill will toward the league, if it were up to him his grandson would not play.—“Star of Stars”, SI 10/13/14, Greg Bishop.
ORLANDO THOMAS, 42, safety with Minnesota, 1995-2001, died on 11/9/14 of complications from ALS. He battled the disease with class and dignity for more than a decade, and never had an ounce of self-pity, always concerned about others. Thomas was a key starter on the 1998 team that went 15-1, and led the league in interceptions as a rookie. The Louisiana native with an outgoing personality was a favorite of his teammates. While researchers continue to analyze whether there are links between repeated hits to the head and ALS, Thomas’s agent Mark Bartelstein said, “In my mind, there’s no doubt that football contributed to this…He was such a big hitter and learning what I’ve learned over the years with players and the connection with this disease and football, there’s just no doubt in my mind it had to.”—“Former Minnesota Vikings player Orlando Thomas dies at age 42”, USAtoday.com 11/10/14, Chris Strauss.
JEFFREY WINANS, 61, offensive lineman with New Orleans, Oakland, and Tampa Bay, 1973-80, died on 12/22/12 after suffering from headaches, insomnia, numbness, back and arm pain, memory problems, and depression. He suffered major back, neck and head injuries in 1978 that forced him to miss the remainder of the season. He had more than 11 concussions in his career. In November 1984 he sustained a life-threatening gunshot accident and was not expected to live. He had multiple surgeries, infections, and his right leg amputated below the knee. Winans could not remember conversations he’d had with his wife, Brandi, which led to anger and frustration. Unable to work, he’d filed for bankruptcy in the ‘80s. He made bad decisions, spent excessively, and began overdrawing their accounts. In 2002 he was diagnosed with Manic Depression/Bi-Polar and Borderline Personality Disorder. Medication seemed to work for a while, but then he exhibited obsessive compulsive behavior about everything being in its place at all times. He would be loving and wonderful for a few weeks, then explode without warning. He would have to write everything down 4 or 5 times, would make plans and stiff people. When right, he was a good father to his son, Travis, and played sports with him. Jeff and Brandi separated in 2005, but remained close, and rekindled their relationship in 2010, actually planning to remarry in 2013. In 2007 Brandi had seen Chris Nowinski, author of “Head Games” and founder of the Sports Legacy Institute, on HBO Real Sports, and realized the effects of head injuries on football players applied to Jeff. She communicated with Nowinski and went to Washington, D.C., for a press conference and hearings. In 1992 Jeff Winans founded Day For Our Children, Inc., to help abused, neglected kids and families whose children need surgery.—“Jeffrey Dow Winans”, Sports Legacy Institute press release 10/14/14, Brandi Winans.
LYLE ALZADO, 43, defensive end with Denver, Cleveland, and the LA Raiders, 1971-85, died on 5/14/92 of brain lymphoma. He began using anabolic steroids in 1969, continued using them for many years, and later used human growth hormone. The Super Bowl champion was known for his violent behavior both on and off the field. He attributed his lymphoma to steroid use and after being diagnosed in April 1991 launched the Lyle Alzado National Steroid Education Program to warn people about the drug’s dangers. Though there was no scientific proof that his illness was caused by steroids, Dr. Lyle Micheli, an orthopedic surgeon at Massachusetts General Hospital, said, “…we know that anabolic steroids stimulate, or rev up, the cells in the body. And when you stimulate those cells, you increase the chances of tumors developing. Growth hormone has that exact kind of risk.”—“Alzado, who wanted to win at all costs, pays the ultimate price”, BaltimoreSun.com 5/15/92, Frank Dell’Apa.