Erik Kramer

ERIK KRAMER, 50, quarterback with Atlanta, Detroit, Chicago and San Diego, 1987-99, shot himself on 8/18/15 in what his former wife, Marshawn Kramer, called a suicide attempt.  The two divorced in 2010, with Marshawn telling NBC News: “I know Erik and I would still be together if not for his football injury.”  She called it a “brain injury.”  “He is a very amazing man, a beautiful soul, but he has suffered depression since he was with the (Chicago) Bears,” Kramer said.  “I can promise you he is not the same man I married.”  Kramer spent five seasons with the Bears, three with Detroit and one each with Atlanta and San Diego (plus three with Calgary in the CFL).  He started 67 games over his 10-year career, throwing for 15,337 yards, 92 touchdowns and 79 interceptions.  Kramer’s son, Griffen, died of a heroin overdose in 2011.  A quarterback at Thousand Oaks High School in California at the time, Griffen Kramer had battled drug abuse in the past.  The couple has another son, 17-year-old Dillon.  Marshawn Kramer said Erik Kramer is a wonderful father who adored his son.  “He’s such a good dad and he would not do this to his son,” she said. “This is brain injury.”–“Erik Kramer suffers non-life-threatening gunshot wound, report says”, ESPN.com News Services 8/19/15.  “Ex-NFL QB Erik Kramer Wounded in Apparent Suicide Attempt”, NBCnews.com 8/20/15, Andrew Blankstein and Phil Helsel.

Kenneth Boatright

KENNETH BOATRIGHT, 25, defensive end with Seattle and Dallas, 2013-15, collided with offensive lineman Tyron Smith during a pass rush drill on 8/6/15, lay motionless on the field with a neck injury for 10 minutes, was strapped to a board and taken to a hospital.  Cowboys coach Jason Garrett was recently criticized by former Cowboys receiver Dwayne Harris for having excessively physical practices. “The physical teams win,” Garrett told reporters, via the Dallas Morning News. “The best teams I have been on were physical.  That doesn’t mean they weren’t skillful.  That doesn’t mean they couldn’t throw the ball, defend the pass, but they’re physical.  I think if you look at all sports, watch the NBA.  The best players are physical.  They’re sturdy.  They’re strong.  That goes really in any sport.”–“Cowboys DE Kenneth Boatright hospitalized after suffering neck injury“, SportingNews.com 8/7/15, Ron Clements, Omnisport.

Curtis Brown

CURTIS BROWN, 60, running back with Buffalo and Houston, 1977-83, died on 7/30/15 from a heart attack after suffering from dementia.  He replaced O.J. Simpson in the Bills backfield after Simpson was traded in 1978.  He suffered four concussions while playing.  “We really think of the reported concussions like the four that Mr. Brown reported, as potentially the tip of an iceberg,” his neurologist, Dr. David Brady, said in 2013. “There might be a lot under the surface that we don’t know about.”  Brown was an all-state running back at St. Charles High School in the 1970s. In 1976 at the University of Missouri, Brown starred in the Tigers’ road upsets against USC and Ohio State, both ranked in the top 10.  In the USC game, Brown rushed for 101 yards and scored three times, including a 95-yard kickoff return and a 49-yard TD pass.  When asked in 2013 if he would do anything differently, Brown said, “I’d live my life the same.”  His mother, Marian Brown, felt much differently. “If I had it to do all over again, my child would go into a different sport because I just don’t feel the same about even watching the game.”–“Ex-Bill Curtis Brown, O.J. Simpson’s successor, dies”, DemocratandChronicle.com & KSDK TV 7/31/15, Art Holliday.

Jeb Putzier

JEB PUTZIER, 36, tight end with Denver, Houston and Seattle, 2002-08, suffered brain damage from many concussions and the residual effects from numerous cortisone injections, became depressed and tried to commit suicide.  After football his personality changed significantly for the worse, he became fatigued so easily that he couldn’t hold his job with a medical equipment company, and was divorced.  Chronic fatigue may have been partially caused by the numerous cortisone and Toradol injections Putzier took throughout his career.  Dr. Greg Hipskind, the chief medical advisor of CereScan, said, “If those cortisol levels in your bloodstream are high, it turns off your brain signals to make more,” Hipskind said. “When that signal remains off for a long time it’s hard for it to restart.”  Putzier now undergoes daily infrared laser treatments to the skull.  He also goes through eyeball movement therapy which helps put the brain cells back in sync.  His condition has markedly improved.–“NFL Aftermath: Life a medical struggle for Jeb Putzier”, 9news.com 7/6/15, Mike Klis.

Pete Duranko

PETE DURANKO, 67, defensive end with Denver, 1967-74, died on 7/8/11 after suffering from ALS (diagnosed in 1999) & dementia (diagnosed in 2010), and was found to have CTE.  He was trached and on oxygen and a ventilator for his last 5 years.  His wife, Janet Duranko, fought the NFL for years to get Pete on the NFL’s “88 Plan” for the last year of his life.  “I am thankful,” said his wife. “At least I’m praying that with the settlement all the retired players with ALS, dementia and declining health won’t have to go through  what Pete and I did, medical expenses, financial hardship and refusals for help from the NFL.  My sons and I watched him die for twelve years.”–Janet Duranko on Dave Pear’s Blog, 2/21/14.  (Pear was Duranko’s camp roommate in Duranko’s last season.) 

Herschel Walker

HERSCHEL WALKER, 53, running back with Dallas, Minnesota, Philadelphia, and NY Giants, 1986-97, has said that he played Russian Roulette with a gun more than once.  “If you came to my home, and you wanted to challenge me at … anything, I didn’t think you were worthy enough … I would take a bullet, put it in a cylinder, spin it, tell you to pull it … People said, ‘Herschel, you’re nuts.’ [When] they walked away, I’d take that gun, put it to my head and snap it … I was so fired up that I could overcome anything. And I think that’s what it was.  I didn’t realize that it was from … all that anger that I had, that I didn’t like myself.  I was not even happy with who I was.”  He also said he was so mad at a delivery man who was late that he wanted to kill him.  The Heisman Trophy winner then saw a bumper sticker on the delivery truck that said “Jesus Loves You,” and decided to get help.  Walker was diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder (formerly known as multiple personality disorder).  “I talk about it now because there are still people out there today that are suffering.  There’s guys in the league [NFL] that I’ve helped so much, that I’ve saved their lives.”  Walker is a cousin of the late Philadelphia safety Andre Waters, who committed suicide in 2006 at 44 by shooting himself in the head.–“Herschel Walker details struggles with mental health, says he played Russian roulette”, MSN.com 6/18/15, Avery Stone, from an interview on ESPN’s Highly Questionable.

Johnny Holland

JOHNNY HOLLAND, 50, linebacker with Green Bay, 1987-93, was kicked in the head by Michael Irvin on a tackle, felt tingling in his extremities as his legs went numb, and lay motionless on the Texas Stadium turf in a 1993 playoff game versus Dallas.  Holland, who had suffered a herniated disc in his neck and had fusion surgery the previous year, returned to the game in the second half and finished with 11 tackles in a loss. “I wanted to believe in my mind that I wasn’t hurt, that I could still play.”  One wrong hit could’ve confined him to a wheelchair for life. “Oh man,” said Holland. “I was very fortunate I didn’t have a hit in that game to really damage it and, you know, become paralyzed.”  For years, Holland felt “invincible.” All pro athletes do, he said, until they’re not.  For those with career-ending neck injuries it’s particularly excruciating to accept.  Holland spent a full weekend with his brother (and agent) to talk it through and accepted his football mortality.  The transition wasn’t seamless.  It took Holland a full three years to accept he was done. “It’s something you’ve done for 15-20 years.  And then all of a sudden, it’s over.  There’s no more football.  You can’t cross those lines and play again. You can’t put that uniform on again.  It’s a tough, tough moment in your life.”  Holland went on to coach with several NFL teams, including Green Bay, and he’s at peace today.–“Former Packers adjust to life after neck injuries ended their NFL careers”, js.online, Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal-Sentinel, Tyler Dunne 5/31/15.

Isaac Redman

ISAAC REDMAN, 30, running back with Pittsburgh, 2009-13, retired on 8/22/14 due to a spinal cord injury.  He was diagnosed with a concussion in Week 2 of the 2013 season and was cut after just three games.  After having 2 MRIs and a CAT scan, Redman retired on the advice of Dr Watkins (known for having performed neck surgery on Peyton Manning).–“Isaac Redman retires from NFL due to spinal cord injury”, NFL.com 8/22/14, Kevin Patra.

Troy Aikman

TROY AIKMAN, 48, quarterback with Dallas, 1989-2000, says he suffered 2 severe concussions and about 6 to 8 overall, before retiring because of chronic back problems.  The 3-time Super Bowl champion was put in the hospital from a concussion in the 1994 NFC Championship Game and did not remember the game at all.  He had back surgery before the 2000 season.  Aikman’s brain was tested in the summer of 2013 at the Center for BrainHealth at the University of Texas at Dallas, and he tested well.  “It certainly gave me some peace of mind.”  “I don’t have a 10-year-old son,” Aikman says. “If I did, I would not tell him he could not play football.  But I don’t think I would encourage him to play football.”  On 49er Chris Borland’s retirement at 24: “A lot of guys talk about it, but when it comes to making the decision, most players are pushed out.  So for a guy who came on and had a terrific rookie season and a promising career ahead of him, to walk away, I guess it’s admirable that he is looking at his long-term health.”–“Troy Aikman on Concussions, Borland and Broadcasting”, MMQB.SI.com 3/26/15, Peter King.

Vontaze Burfict

VONTAZE BURFICT, 24, linebacker with Cincinnati, 2012-present, sustained concussions in consecutive games on 9/7 and 9/14/14, also suffering a stinger in the 9/14 game when he took a teammate’s knee to his helmet.  Coach Marvin Lewis said Burfict suffered a cervical strain, an injury where the muscles in the neck are stretched beyond the point they are designed for, tearing and straining the muscle fibers.  Three weeks later he left a game with a “head injury,” but returned to the game.  Burfict remains on Injured Reserve status with Cincinnati.–“Vontaze Burfict latest injury is a ‘cervical strain'”, NBCsports.com 10/19/14, Darin Gantt.  KFFL.com 9/18/14.