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.
ALEX PIERSCIONEK, 19, defensive lineman with South Elgin HS (IL), blacked out after a head-on collision with an offensive lineman and woke up hours later in an emergency room. He had collapsed on the field and was airlifted to the hospital, events he does not remember. He has suffered from headaches, depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts. Pierscionek is suing the Illinois High School Association in an effort to protect future student athletes from concussions.–“Parents face difficult decision when it comes to football and their kids”, Newsday.com 8/10/15, John M. Crisp, Tribune News Service. “Suit Tackles Risk of Concussion in High School Football”, NBCnews.com 5/24/15, John Yang.
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.
MORRIS TRENT PHIPPS, 61, nose guard with Baylor, 1965-70, died on 10/9/09 after suffering from serious depression, Early Onset Alzheimer’s disease, and at death was found to have CTE, the effects of which began to show in 1997. The coaches thought he was too small but his tenacity, quickness, and strength always earned him his starting position. The first in his family ever to attend and graduate from college, Phipps was married with 2 sons and worked as a teacher, coach and principal. Trent’s family misses him greatly and wants people to know the devastation of this disease and asks you to support, in whatever fashion, the research that may some day prevent others from suffering the effects of CTE.–“Morris Trent Phipps Legacy Donor Page”, Sports Legacy Institute. Memorial by his wife Donna and sons Brett and Garrett.
DANIEL BRETT, 16, junior varsity linebacker with Cypress Bay HS (FL), committed suicide on 5/14/11 after being diagnosed with post-concussion syndrome and suffering from ‘migraine-type headaches’ and depression. He began playing football at 11 and never complained and never told anyone when he was hurt until August 24, 2009. “Coach, I can’t see,” Daniel finally confessed and later acknowledged he had been hit head-on and taken quite a few blows that left him seeing stars. Brett regularly saw a neurologist, was on anti-seizure/migraine medication, visited a chiropractor, and even tried acupuncture. Nothing helped his chronic headaches, growing depression, sluggishness, and apathy. His value judgments and behaviors deteriorated as he tried in vain to alleviate his pain through self-medication. Psychiatrists at one hospital prescribed anti-depressant and anti-psychotic medications geared to treat his depression, but they, just like all the numerous well-intentioned medical professionals in Broward County, never followed a process to also treat his injured brain. Doctors from the University of Miami’s Concussion Program said that Brett had suffered multiple concussions. He was an amazing young man with a kind heart, a love for life, music, friends and family, and a zest for football. From March to May 2011, Brett’s quality of life improved greatly due to the correct diagnoses and treatment by the doctors at the University of Miami’s Concussion Program. But it was too late. Brett was not found to have CTE, but did have in his brain tissue an abnormal build-up of tau protein, which is found in brains with CTE. In 2011 Brett’s family incorporated The Daniel Brett Foundation, Inc. as a non-profit 501 (3) (c) organization and worked to get Florida’s Concussion Law passed in April 2012, which was dedicated to Daniel.–“Daniel Brett’s Legacy Donor Page”, Sports Legacy Institute, Diana Pilar Brett, Daniel’s mother.
GARY PLUMMER, 55, linebacker with San Diego and San Francisco, 1986-97, was diagnosed with early onset dementia in November 2014. “Your helmet is a weapon, and it always has been,” he said. “I had a headache for 11 straight years.” Plummer was in denial about the trauma to his head and didn’t think he’d ever had a concussion, since he’d never been knocked out cold. He once stormed out of a panel discussion on concussions organized by agent Leigh Steinberg after yelling, “You guys are a joke.” He said he felt reassured by “being lied to by the NFL.” He worked for years as a 49ers radio analyst, but when he started working for the Pac-12 Network, he struggled with memory. “I couldn’t think fast.” While playing, Plummer, who also played 3 years in the USFL, believed that players who retired because of injury were weak. He’s also suffered from depression, especially after the suicide of his good friend and former teammate Junior Seau, who committed suicide in May 2012 by shooting himself and was found to have CTE.—“Young 49er’s retirement kick-starts discussion about the dangers of football”, SF Chronicle 3/18/15, Ann Killion. “League of Denial”, Steve Fainaru & Mark Fainaru-Wada.
PHILLIP WATKINS, 23, defensive back with De Anza College (CA), 2012, was shot and killed outside his fiancee’s home by police on 2/11/15. Described as distraught and depressed by his family, Watkins made a 911 call reporting a home invasion by a male armed with a knife. San Jose police spokeswoman Sgt. Heather Randol said Watkins stated he was locked in an upstairs bedroom with his children and requested help from police. Randol said Watkins was on the sidewalk in front of the home holding a knife with a 4-inch blade when 2 officers arrived, and ran at them in a threatening manner. Randol said Watkins refused the officers’ orders to stop and drop the knife, and continued to run toward them, prompting the shooting. Watkins was shot 9 times. The mother of his fiancée, Faye Buchanan, who also lives in the home and witnessed the shooting, described it as excessive, saying Watkins started “trotting” over to the officers when they fired. Buchanan’s daughter was also present. “We begged them to help him, not shoot him,” said Faye Buchanan, who questioned why the police didn’t try to use a stun gun, especially since she had called a suicide hotline earlier and was told by the operator police would be called in order to mobilize a suicide intervention. When asked if Watkins tried to bait the police into killing him, a phenomenon known as “suicide by cop,” Buchanan said she didn’t know. “I can’t speculate, but he wasn’t in his right mind when it took place.”—“San Jose cops kill man with knife”, SF Chronicle 2/13/15, Hamed Aleaziz & Vivian Ho. A picture within the article shows Watkins to be African American.
MOSI TATUPU, 54, running back and special teamer with New England and the LA Rams, 1978-91, died of a heart attack in 2010 and was found to have CTE in October 2014, a day after his family learned he’d been elected to the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame. Tatupu left a family dinner at a restaurant after his first home game with New England and was found vomiting profusely in the parking lot by his wife, Linnea Garcia-Tatupu. Her father, a former boxer while in the marines, knew that Tatupu had suffered a concussion. The fan favorite from American Samoa underwent distinct behavior changes in his early 30s, growing aloof and forgetful, frequently misplacing things, and drinking heavily. His metamorphosis caused his 20-year marriage to unravel. In CTE the abnormal buildup of tau protein prevents the brain’s nerve cells from making normal connections with each other, eventually killing them. The buildup causes erratic behavior, memory loss, depression, and ultimately dementia. Tatupu’s son, Lofa, 32, played 6 seasons with the Seattle Seahawks and wants his 2 sons, one nearly 4 years old, and the other 6 months, to eventually follow in the family footsteps, which terrifies Linnea. “I’m not going to lie: I loved football up until I became involved with somebody who played the game. I am not going to recommend any sport where you can’t protect the very thing that is meant to keep you alive. If your brain doesn’t work, there is precious little else that will.”—“Years of battering took toll on 1980s Patriots star Mosi Tatupu”, BostonGlobe.com 1/27/15, Kay Lazar.
DARRYL TALLEY, 54, linebacker with Buffalo, Atlanta and Minnesota, 1983-96, has told The Buffalo News that he is suffering from depression and has contemplated suicide in what he considers side-effects from his hard-hitting playing days. A key player on the Buffalo teams that went to 4 consecutive Super Bowls, he says he’s had too many concussions to count and at least 75 times he saw flashes of light after being hit. He has memory loss, trouble sleeping, and lives in constant pain as a result of 14 operations he had during his playing days to repair various injuries. Financially, Talley has had trouble making ends meet since the company he owned closed in 2008 and has received financial assistance from former teammates. “It would be easy to call it a day…I’m convinced I’m not dead yet. But the future doesn’t look bright.”—“Former Bills star Talley suffers from depression”, AP NFL website 11/28/14. 11/29/14 Update: According to ESPN.com, within 2 days of Talley’s press conference Buffalo Bills fans had raised over $100,000 to help him. Contributions can be made at http://www.gofundme.com/hvkgjo
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.