Damaged But Left Out

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.

Roger Staubach

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.

Jeffrey Winans

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.

Lem Barney

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

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.

Steve Gleason

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.

Joe Montana

JOE MONTANA, 58, quarterback with San Francisco and Kansas City, 1979-94 (missed the entire 1991 season due to a torn elbow tendon), has had at least 11 surgeries, including spinal fusion surgery, and at least 6 concussions. The spinal fusion causes occasional numbness in his arm.  He’s had 3 neck surgeries as of June 2014.  From repeated blows to the head, the 4-time Super Bowl champion has nerve damage in his right eye, causing it to sag occasionally.  He will eventually need knee-replacement surgery, but is holding off as long as he can (he’s had at least 6 knee surgeries).—“Glory has its price”, SF Chronicle 1/07, Ron Kroichick.  “Joe Cool: Montana Charms at London fan event”, The Sacramento Bee 10/26/13, sacbee.com, Matt Barrows.  “Willie’s World”, SF Chronicle 6/1/14, Willie Brown.

Steve Young

STEVE YOUNG, 53, quarterback with Tampa Bay and San Francisco, 1985-99, retired after suffering his seventh concussion (at least).  The Super Bowl champion has been knocked out and lost his ability to taste and smell for periods.  He was hit approximately 21 times in a game against New Orleans in 1999.  What he fears most for players is the micro-concussions, because they aren’t noticeable like the big hits.  He says the unknown is a source of fear for players assessing the long-term effects of what they’ve absorbed.  After Junior Seau’s suicide he wanted to ask all the guys he played with a long time: “Look me in the eye.  Is everything all right?”  Asked if he’d let his son play football, he said, “I would—well coached, well protected.  For other reasons, I don’t know that I would want my son to play professional football.”—FRONTLINE interview with Jim Gilmore on 3/27/13.

Joe Namath

JOE NAMATH, 72, quarterback with the NY Jets and LA Rams, 1965-77, says that playing football damaged his brain.  “None of the body was designed to play football.”  Famous for guaranteeing and completing the biggest upset in Super Bowl history in 1969, the Hall of Famer has had both knees replaced.  He admitted he had a drinking problem and went into rehab after appearing drunk on a national TV interview with ESPN’s Suzy Kolber, saying he wanted to kiss her.—“Joe Namath says he has brain damage from football”, Yahoo! Sports 1/31/14, Jay Busbee referencing an interview with Rita Beaver on CBS Sunday Morning.

Namath Update: Namath, who has recently undergone treatment for brain injuries, was asked in an interview with Tiffany Kenney of ABC’s West Palm Beach, FL, affiliate WPBF-TV whether would still play the game, given all he has learned about the effects of concussions. “No,” he said. “I hate to say that because if I had a child who wanted to play I’d let them play … but I’d wait ’til he developed a little more. This instrument that we have, that we have been blessed with … it’s not designed for the kind of contact or physical abuse your body gets playing this sport.”  Including high school, college and pros, he played 13 years.  In September 2014, the Jupiter Medical Center in Jupiter, FL, opened the Joe Namath Neurological Research Center to help combat the debilitating effects of traumatic brain injuries.  The center launched a clinical trial to study the effectiveness of hyperbaric oxygen therapy for treating the traumatic brain injuries that can result from sports-related concussions, motor vehicle accidents, strokes, military combat or other accidents.  Namath not only helped raise $10 million to fund the project, he took part in the therapy, spending 120 sessions in the hyperbaric chamber.  He knew that several other former players, including Dave Herman, who played with Namath on the Jets, had been diagnosed with degenerative brain disease that was linked to suffering repeated concussions.  Namath had brain scans done that showed parts of his brain were not receiving enough blood. Since the treatments, he has felt better, he said, and his brain scans showed improvements.  “The scans are beautiful and I really feel like I’ve gotten sharper.  I feel better than ever.”–“Joe Namath Says He Wouldn’t Play Football Again”, ABCnews.go.com 4/30/15, Dean Schabner.

Bernie Kosar

BERNIE KOSAR, 50, quarterback with Cleveland, Dallas and Miami, 1985-96, has publicly talked about how head injuries sustained during his NFL career have affected his speech, making him sometimes slur his words.  He has also been addicted to pain medications, gone through a divorce, and had financial troubles.—9/13 AP article about his arrest for speeding while driving under the influence.  4/25/14 Update: Kosar believes he’s been unfairly sacked as a color commentator for Cleveland’s preseason games and contends he’s been removed because of slurred speech he attributes to “a direct result of the many concussions I received while playing in the NFL…Being able to share these preseason games with my fellow Cleveland Browns fans is truly one of the remaining joys in my life.”—SF Chronicle 4/25/14.