JUSTIN STRZELCZYK, 36, offensive lineman with Pittsburgh, 1990-98, died on 9/30/04 after he crashed his pick-up into a tanker truck, causing an explosion that hurtled him through the windshield before landing 80 yards down the road. This was at the end of a nearly 40 mile police chase during which he drove the wrong way on the NY State Thruway at speeds of up to 100 miles per hour. He suffered from depression and hallucinations, heard voices from “the evil ones.” He was arrested in 2000 for having a gun without a permit and in 2003 for DUI. Father of 2 children, he was divorced in 2001. CTE was confirmed.—“What drove Justin Strzelczyk to his death?”, Pittsburgh Post Gazette 10/31/04, Chuck Finder. “Lineman Dead at 36, Exposes Brain Injuries”, NY Times 6/15/07, Alan Schwarz. “Head Case” article as above.
52 of 54 deceased NFLers whose brains have been examined have been found to have CTE.—Steve Fainaru of ESPN, 1/9/14, in live conversation with Joan Ryan at the Commonwealth Club of California in San Francisco, a program I attended.
THOMAS HOWARD, 30, outside linebacker with Oakland, Cincinnati and Atlanta, 2006-13, was killed on 11/18/13 when he crashed into the back of a big rig, sending his overturned BMW over the median where it sideswiped one car and landed on top of another, killing its driver, 64 year-old Zenglong Liu. Witnesses told the California Highway Patrol (CHP) that Howard had been exceeding 100 mph. Howard had been released by Atlanta the previous week.—“CHP: Former Oakland Raider Thomas Howard was driving ‘beyond recklessly’ before fatal wreck”, Contra Costa Times 11/20/13, Rick Hurd & Kristin J. Bender. “Ex-Raider killed in crash on I-880”, SF Chronicle 11/18/13, Henry K. Lee.
HOWARD GLENN, 26, offensive guard with the American Football League’s NY Titans (later the NY Jets), died in Houston on 10/9/60 after sustaining a broken neck in a game. Glenn had sustained an injury the week before in Dallas, from which it took more than the usual time to revive him, and had complained of headaches during the week. The temperature in Houston exceeded 90 degrees, with intense humidity on game day. During a huddle Glenn told teammate and friend Ernie Barnes, “I don’t think I can make it,” yet remained in the game till the third quarter when he was sandwiched between 2 defensive players and couldn’t get up. He was helped to the sideline, where he remained for the rest of the game, alone and unattended. He did not receive medical attention until after the game. While being examined by a Houston doctor he demanded to be taken to a hospital, then collapsed onto the floor and went into convulsions, gasping to breathe. He was finally taken by emergency personnel to a Houston hospital, where he died 90 minutes after the game of a broken neck. It is not known whether the injury was sustained that day or in the previous game in Dallas. He was also an artist who sketched teammates.—“The Tragedy of Howard Glenn”, Tales From The American Football League 12/13/12, Dave Steidel on Todd Tobias’ AFL blog.
STONE JOHNSON, 23, running back with Kansas City, 1963, suffered a broken neck blocking on a kickoff return in a preseason game in Wichita, KS, on 8/31/63 and died on 9/8/63. The Olympic sprinter’s fifth cervical vertebra was fractured, his head was moved and propped up on a helmet, and it took about a half hour for an ambulance to arrive. He underwent surgery. As a high school freshman football player he had injured his back and undergone spinal surgery that left him bedridden for 3 months. He claimed he became faster after the surgery and recovery. He was a member of the 4X100 relay team that had finished first at the 1960 Olympics in Rome but was disqualified because of a baton-pass violation.—“Stone Johnson died 50 years ago from injury in NFL game”, USA Today 8/31/13, Jeff Miller.
CHUCK HUGHES, 28, wide receiver with Philadelphia and Detroit, 1967-71, suffered a fatal heart attack on 10/24/71 in the final minutes of a loss to Chicago at Tiger Stadium. Initially confusion surrounded what had happened to Hughes, as some thought he was faking an injury to get a timeout, others thought he’d been hit away from the play by Bears linebacker Dick Butkus, who waved frantically to the Detroit sideline for help, causing still others to think he was taunting the Detroit bench. In reality Hughes had just run a long pass pattern and was returning to the huddle when he suddenly grabbed his chest and collapsed. He lay on the field for almost an hour as doctors performed mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and CPR. He’d had chest pains 6 weeks earlier, but had been examined and cleared to play. His widow, Sharon Leah, filed a malpractice lawsuit against Henry Ford Hospital for failing to diagnose his advanced arteriosclerosis. The lawsuit was settled out of court. He was killed by a blood clot that completely cut circulation to his heart muscle. His family had a history of heart problems. Hughes is the only NFL player to die on the field during a game.—“1971 Bears vs. Lions: The tragic death of Chuck Hughes”, chicagonow.com 11/9/13, Chuck Fouts. “Hughes Family Had History Of Heart Trouble”, The Times-News 10/25/71, from UPI.
RODNEY THOMAS, 41, running back with the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans and Atlanta, 1995-2001, died on 6/14/14 from coronary artherosclerosis, or a heart attack, according to a preliminary autopsy done in Trinity County, TX. East Texas news anchor, Taylor Hemness, who grew up in Groveton, TX, as did Thomas, said, “You don’t think about people that are 41 years-old dying.” Thomas led the Groveton Indians to back-to-back 2A state champions in 1989 and 1990, led Texas A&M in rushing 4 straight seasons, and played in 103 NFL games, including Super Bowl XXIV.—“Preliminary autopsy report reveals former Groveton football standout died of heart attack”, KTRE.com 6/18/14, Gary Bass.
Almost once a game, an NFL player absorbs an illegal blow to the head or neck that could put his career at risk. The AP reviewed 549 penalties, 491 of which fell under the category of major infractions, through the first 11 weeks and 162 games of the 2013 season. The AP identified 156 penalties involving contact with the head and neck, an average of .962 per game. 93 penalties were for hits to the head.—“Illegal, high hits still common”, SF Chronicle 12/11/13, from AP.
NFL players sustained more than 1,300 injuries on the field in the 2013-14 season as of 1/23/14. 96 were head injuries and 41 were neck injuries, with 49 to the back. 300 injuries were to the knee, 206 to the ankle, 155 to the upper leg, 116 to the shoulder, and 93 to the foot.—“NFL Players Had More Than 1,300 Injuries This Season”, Max Knoblach 2/1/14, infographic by Simple Therapy, posted on Mashable.
Injured Reserve (IR) in the NFL means that a player’s suffered an injury severe enough to end his regular season. 2000-06: 239 players per season average (out of approximately 1700 total) were placed on IR. 2007-13: 314 average on IR, with a high of 353 in 2010. In other words, over 16% of those who start the season don’t finish it.—“Workout limits pain Bill Belichick”, ESPN.com 12/25/13, with numbers obtained from STATS, a respected website that tracks the IR List.
A 2005 University of North Carolina (UNC) study of more than 2500 retired NFL players found a higher incidence of clinical depression among ex-players with 3 or more concussions than those with less than 3.
A 2007 UNC study found retired NFL players with 3 or more concussions were 3 times as likely to experience depression in retirement than other ex-players with less than 3.
“2 Ex-Jets Have Moved On, but Concussion Effects Linger”, NY Times 11/20/11, William C. Rhoden. “Lewis, who is cleared to play, has benefited from studies that focus on head injuries”, SF Chronicle 9/09, John Crumpacker. (Above 2 items.)
Washington Post survey of more than 500 retired NFL players: Nearly 9 in 10 suffer from aches and pains on a daily basis. 9 of 10 reported sustaining concussions while playing. 6 in 10 said they’d had 3 or more. 9 of 10 experienced at least one major injury. More than half had 3 or more major injuries. More than 80% said they’d had orthopedic surgery, most of them multiple times. 3 out of 5 reported 5 or more surgeries.
University of Michigan survey of more than 1000 former players: 8 out of 10 reported pain that lasts most of the day. Among retirees ages 30 to 49, 1 in 3 said he was unable to work or limited in work. Almost 30% rated their health “fair” or “poor.”
Even after the league recently agreed to pay $765 million to settle a lawsuit by former players, commissioner Roger Goodell said, “There was no recognition that anything was caused by football.”—“NFL dream alive despite its risks”, SF Chronicle 10/15/13, Tom FitzGerald (includes the above 2 surveys).
Sports Illustrated poll of 39 players on the 1986 Cincinnati Bengals in 2011: 28 (72%) had at least one surgery during their NFL careers, and 16 (41%) reported post-career surgery for an NFL-related malady. 12 players (31%) said they have an impending surgery to address something that happened in the NFL. 36 players (92%) said they are bothered by an NFL-related ailment from their years in the game. The average player has 3 body parts that hurt daily. 17 players (44%) said they have memory loss. 13 (33%) reported daily headaches and believe they stem from football. 5 others experience memory loss and/or headaches, but aren’t sure it’s football-related. 30 players said they lacked knowledge of what a concussion was during their careers and most likely continued to play despite the injury. Only 2 players said they didn’t think they had suffered a concussion in an NFL game. 4 players (10%) have had a total of 8 knee or hip replacements. Only 5 players (13%) said they wouldn’t want their sons or close relatives to play in the NFL, while another 5 said they would have mixed feelings about someone close to them playing pro ball. 22 players have knee problems (linebacker Reggie Williams, 57, has had 24 surgeries on his right knee alone), 17 have shoulder issues, while back and neck injuries each plague 15. 95% of survey respondents, roughly the same number experiencing daily pain, say playing in the NFL was worth it. (Of the 48 players on the 1986 roster, the average career length was 8.75 years.)—Same SI article as above.
1990 Ball State study commissioned by the NFL Players Association covering the previous 50 years of league history and 870 respondents: 65% had a “major injury,” defined as requiring surgery or forcing a player to miss at least 8 games. The percentage of players incurring such injuries had increased from 42% before 1959 to 72% in the 1980s, after many stadiums had switched from grass to artificial turf. 2 of every 3 former players said that football injuries had limited their ability to participate in sports in retirement. More than half also had a curtailed ability to do physical labor. Of those who played during the 1970s and 1980s, nearly half said they retired because of injury, up from 30% in the years before 1959. An athlete who suffers an injury to a major weight-bearing joint, such as the hip or knee, is 5 to 7 times more likely to develop degenerative arthritis than an average member of the population. Arthritis is the most commonly reported health problem, affecting 47% of respondents.—“The Wrecking Yard”, SI.com SI Vault 5/7/01, William Nack.
NFL Life Line: 1-(800) 506-0078 www.nfllifeline.org
P.A.S.T.: 1-(800) 570-3719 www.pastpain.com
NFL Player Care Foundation: 1-(800) 635-4625 www.nflplayercare.com
Gridiron Greats: 1-(773) 867-8160 www.gridirongreats.org
Turn To Help: 1-(866) 455-8876 www.turntohelp.com
88 Plan: 1-(800) 638-3186
Players Outreach USA: 1-(877) 427-6744 www.playersoutreach.org
Dave Pear’s Blog: www.davepear.com
College Football Assistance Fund: 1-(877) 352-6224 www.cfafund.org
The Miami Project: 1-(800) 782-6387 www.miamiproject.miami.edu
Bay Area RESOURCES
Suicide Prevention: 1-(800) 273-8255
SF Suicide Prevention: 1-(415) 781-0500
SF General Hospital Psychiatric Emergency Services: 1-(415) 206-8125
Mental Health/Social Services: 211