SCOTT ROSS, 45, linebacker with New Orleans, 1991, and USC, 1987-90, died on 9/21/14 of extreme hypertension and alcohol poisoning, and was believed to have been dead 7-10 days in a car in a Louisiana church parking lot. Scott Ross was funny and magnetic, life of the party. His was the loudest voice on three Rose Bowl teams at USC, where he was Pac-10 defensive Player of the Year. When he met Laura Fitzgerald, his last girlfriend, he asked her to watch a movie with him. It was “North Dallas Forty,” adapted from Pete Gent’s book about carousing football players and their extreme ambivalence about their game. That, Ross told her, was his story. He was misdiagnosed. He was accepted at mental health facilities and turned away. He lost two marriages. He was drowned in a cascade of pain medication and alcohol. At the end, he was depressed and violent and slept almost around the clock, his parents, Marshall and Janie Ross, said. Todd Marinovich, the USC and NFL quarterback who has journeyed to, and returned from, his own inferno, said, “We’re just serving our youth up for brain damage.” During the course of his marriages Scott’s days of rage became more frequent. He had a degenerative hip problem and was taking highly addictive painkillers, and he was also diagnosed as bipolar, which required more medication. He had jobs, including a good one with 3M, and lost them. Dr. Frank Adams, a retired neurotherapist who was also a psychiatrist, said of Ross’ condition, “This was an extreme case. Dementia is a progressive disease that will eventually kill you.” At times Marshall would see Scott sitting on a curb, crying. At one point he had to break into Scott’s apartment and get him off the floor. “It’s like a dark cloud that’s coming,” Scott would say. “There’s pure evil going on in my head. I have to take a drink or a pill to stop it.” In an effort to help him, his parents took him back into their home. “He would be awake all night long,” Janie said. “He lived for that cellphone, would spend hours talking to his friends. Things would change quickly. One day USC was playing football on TV and he watched, seemed so happy. He was wound up, pacing the floor, yelling. First time we’d seen him happy in a long time. But then he would go berserk. We were afraid physically. I told people that Scott would never hit us…once he got me in a headlock. It scared the daylights out of me. There were nights I had to spend with my girlfriend. We had to ask him to leave.” There was the night Ross found himself on the roof of an apartment building, trying to get in. There was another night he was wearing only a raincoat, driving a tractor in the rain in San Luis Obispo. “He thought it was funny,” Janie said. “But he didn’t remember any of that. He didn’t remember getting physical with me.” Janie does not watch football anymore. Marshall does, with ambivalence.–“Football killed ex-USC LB Scott Ross; His family wants NFL to do more about concussions”, DailyNews.com 8/15/15, LA Daily News, Mark Whicker.
JERRY ECKWOOD, 59, running back with Tampa Bay, 1979-81, has dementia. He remembers sustaining at least 2 concussions in college (at Arkansas) and 3 in the pros, before retiring due to back and neck injuries. According to his older brother, Doug, he had no psychological issues before retiring. Shortly thereafter, he began acting erratically, was arrested for writing bad checks and fighting with a police officer, and committed to Arkansas State Hospital for 5 or 6 years. His mental state has slowly deteriorated and he has little contact with his family. Eckwood, who can no longer drive, go grocery shopping, handle his checkbook, or function on his own, lives in an assisted living facility and has qualified for the 88 Plan, and is entitled to receive annual benefits of $136,000 for the remainder of his life.—“Before Dementia Assistance, Help With N.F.L. Application”, NY Times 1/21/10, Alan Schwarz. Same “Broken Bucs” article as above.
DAVONE BESS, 29, wide receiver with Miami and Cleveland, 2008-13, was arrested on 1/17/14 at Ft. Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport for assault, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. After “acting irrationally” and walking down an airport concourse with his pants falling down, Bess, when approached by a deputy, crushed a cup of coffee on him and got into a fighting stance. The deputy hit Bess on the leg with his baton, which apparently had no effect, as he took off his shirt and re-assumed the stance. After backup arrived he was taken into custody. He appeared to be high on drugs and had recently posted a picture of himself on Twitter with what appeared to be marijuana (he’d also posted a picture of himself nude in front of a mirror). On 3/11/13 the Broward Sheriff’s Office was called to Bess’ home, where several males were trying to restrain an agitated, incoherent Bess, who was trying to throw them off. He started screaming about guns and drugs and football (there was a cannabis smell in the house). After efforts to sedate him failed, he was finally pinned down by several cops and taken to Memorial East Hospital for observation. Bess’ mother, Chinell Carpenter, said he had not slept in 3 days and was going through serious personal issues. She said he had no prior psychiatric history and was on no medication. Bess was once hailed as a true redemption story. Raised in a rough part of Oakland, he witnessed the murder of his uncle at age 10. Bess won the Miami Dolphins’ 2011 Walter Payton Man of the Year, an award honoring his work away from the field.—“Davone Bess arrest reveals troubled world of the former Dolphins receiver”, MiamiHerald.com 1/18/14 (updated 9/8/14), Adam H. Beasley, Armando Salguero.
FORREST BLUE, 65, center with San Francisco and the Baltimore Colts, 1968-78, died on 7/16/11 at an assisted living facility where he’d lived his last 22 months while receiving benefits under the Mackey Plan. He’d begun exhibiting symptoms of dementia 15 years before his death and had CTE. He struggled with depression, memory loss, disorientation, hallucinations, and, in the end, full-blown dementia. An outgoing person and loving father, he became strangely silent and reclusive, eventually withdrawing from his 2 daughters after divorce (he was divorced 3 times). He annihilated a bed because he believed it was attacking him, and talked frequently about an 8-foot African man who was following him (plus numerous other delusions). Despite a 15-year estrangement, his daughters, Brittney and Brandi, helped care for him the last couple years. Blue kept folders with article clippings about the long-term effects of repeated head trauma and wanted his brain examined for CTE after his death. He was also found to have Lewy Body Dementia, a brain disease associated with hallucinations.—“The Hollow Man”, sactown magazine Feb-Mar 2012, Tim Swanson. “Forrest Blue, and Giving Offensive Lineman Their Due”, NY Times 7/25/11, Andy Barall.
R.C. OWENS, 77, wide receiver with SF, the Baltimore Colts, and the NY Giants, 1957-64, died on 6/17/12 of complications from Alzheimer’s. According to his wife of 25 years, Susan, he suffered through 3 back operations and had bolts put into the top of his spine to hold his head in place. He had deteriorating back disease, knee surgery, applied for disability 3 times, and was denied each time. 9 years prior to his death he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Known for his sweet, easy-going, loving disposition, he became a stranger who yelled and swore and acted like he hated his wife. His NFL pension was $800 per month. “Yes he knew that he could have long standing injuries well after he left the game, but I guarantee, if someone told him there is a great possibility, from playing football, you will lose your mind and die, he would not.”—“Susan Owens: Wife of deceased NFL player R.C. Owens”, davepear.com 2/12/14.
CARLTON CHESTER “COOKIE” GILCHRIST, 75, fullback with Buffalo, Denver and Miami, 1962-66, died on 1/10/11 of cancer, and also had severe CTE. He also played 6 years in the Canadian Football League (CFL). In 1965 he was among a group of black players who boycotted the American Football League (AFL) All-Star Game in New Orleans after they weren’t allowed into a bar and had difficulty catching cabs. The game was eventually moved to Houston. At approximately 35 he began having difficulties with behavior, cognition, paranoia, impulse control, strange behaviors, aggression, memory, judgment, and problem solving. —“Cookie Gilchrist Suffered Severe Brain Damage, Per Study”, SB Nation 11/7/11, Matt Warren. “Cookie Gilchrist dies at 75; AFL star player”, LA Times 1/11/11.