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.
LEM BARNEY, 69, defensive back with Detroit, 1967-77, wishes he had never played football. “Never. Never. From all-city, all-state, all-conference, all-American, seven times All-Pro, I’m in eight Hall of Fames, it wouldn’t be. It would be golf or tennis. I’m serious. Very serious.” His health is relatively good, and better than many former teammates, but he has nerve conditions that cause tingling sensations and prevent him from sleeping more than 3 or 4 hours per night. Though never diagnosed with a concussion because players didn’t have doctors looking for concussions in his playing era, he believes he had 7 or 8 of them. He’s part of the class action lawsuit against the NFL over brain injuries.—“Hall of Famer Lem Barney wishes he’d never played football”, NBCsports.com 3/24/12, Michael David Smith.
NICK ROACH, 29, linebacker with Chicago, 2007-12, and Oakland, 2013-14, was placed on injured reserve on 10/8/14, 7 weeks after sustaining a concussion in a preseason game, ending his season without playing a regular season game. He said he was feeling better, but hadn’t passed the final level of the league’s concussion protocol. Roach said he had 2 or 3 concussions in the past.—“Concussion ends Roach’s season”, SF Chronicle 10/9/14, Vic Tafur. 2/19/15 Roach Update: Roach is still having headaches and is not expected to return next season. Roach suffered a concussion in an 8/22/14 preseason game versus Green Bay, returned to practice in September, but was limited to individual drills before being shut down for the year after Oakland fell to 0-4. GM Reggie McKenzie said, “As much as we’d love him to be our signal caller on defense, I don’t want to risk lifelong injury if he goes out there.” Roach played every snap for Oakland in 2013.–“Roach is unlikely for ’15”, SF Chronicle 2/19/15, Vic Tafur.
TONY JEFFERSON, 22, safety with Arizona, 2013-14, pulled over for 30 minutes while driving on 10/26/14 after a game in which he’d made 11 tackles on 73 snaps, realizing something wasn’t right. “I don’t really remember the game…I was like, ‘What just happened?’ I don’t remember what happened. It was kinda scary. I went home and watched the film on the iPad. It was like seeing you on auto pilot. It was pretty weird.” Jefferson was diagnosed with a concussion the next morning. He passed concussion protocol 3 days later and was cleared for limited practice. “This is your brain you’re talking about…We got a long season ahead of us; I don’t want to rush back.”—“Tony Jefferson deals with concussion”, ESPN.com 10/31/14, Josh Weinfuss.
STEVE GLEASON, 37, safety/special teamer with New Orleans, 2000-07, was diagnosed with ALS in January 2010. He is best known for blocking a punt versus Atlanta in the first game back in the Superdome after Hurricane Katrina, spurring the Saints to victory on 9/25/06. Coach Sean Peyton said the crowd’s reaction was “probably the loudest I’ve ever heard any stadium—ever.” He and his wife, Michel, had been seeing fertility specialists when Gleason was diagnosed, trying to have their first child. Though faced with the prospect of supporting and caring for both father and child, she elected to go ahead and conceive. Their son Rivers was born in October 2011. Most people live 3 to 5 years after an ALS diagnosis. Scientific studies have shown increasing links between brain disease, such as dementia, and the frequency of concussions among football players. The question of whether Gleason regrets playing football is a complicated one, because he cannot be certain that he would have been spared from ALS had he never played football. Dr. Steve Perrin, the chief scientific officer at the ALS Therapy Development Institute in Cambridge, Mass., said he is aware of 27 cases of NFL players being diagnosed with ALS, which is much higher than any other major American pro sport. He noted that there are no documented cases of NHL players with ALS, which remains a relatively rare disease in general. Gleason has a non-profit to help people with ALS and muscular diseases at www.teamgleason.org (donations to The Gleason Family Trust can also be made there).—“Steve Gleason diagnosed with ALS”, ESPN.com 9/25/11, from AP.
The NFL now calculates that women account for 45% of its fan base.—“A fool’s world”, SF Chronicle Editorial on KNBR’s Damon Bruce, 11/13/13.
BRETT FAVRE, 45, quarterback with Green Bay, Atlanta, the NY Jets, and Minnesota, 1991-2010, has admitted fear over “pretty shocking memory lapses,” such as forgetting having seen his daughter’s soccer games. The Super Bowl winner and 3-time NFL MVP once played in 297 consecutive games and was sacked 525 times. He was once addicted to painkillers during his career and suffered a seizure that was probably related to his addiction. Favre once suffered a concussion during a game and re-entered without medical clearance, throwing a touchdown pass he didn’t remember. On his last play as a professional he suffered a concussion, being knocked out when his head hit the icy field. “I would be real leery about him playing,” Favre said, if he had a son. “I would have a hard time just throwing him out there.”–“Concussion concerns hit home when former QB forgets part of his life”, ESPN.com 10/31/13, Johnette Howard. “Bitter pill”, SI.com 5/27/96, Peter King. “Favre’s Concussion Adds to Packer Woes”—NY Times 10/4/04, Pat Borzi. Interview with Matt Lauer, “The Today Show” 11/18/03, NBC TV.