Ex-players more worried about concussions than current ones

Jamal Anderson never was opposed to physical contact as a running back. (AP photo)

Jamal Anderson never was opposed to physical contact as a running back. (AP photo)

If football were all about the foot and the ball, we wouldn’t be here.

Defensive ends wouldn’t resemble 18-wheelers on the road to mayhem. Offensive linemen wouldn’t look for somebody to pancake on a screen play. Borderline psychos wouldn’t dangle $10,000 bounties as a means of motivation.

We’re here because football isn’t about merely the foot and the ball. It’s about collisions and who wins them. It’s about blocking and tackling and the ugliness, pain and too often the tragedy that goes with it. The NFL is facing 76 concussion-related lawsuits involving more than 2,150 former players. The numbers will continue to go up, and it’s not a stretch to suggest that how all of the cases are resolved could impact the league and the game like no issue before it.

The avalanche of litigation was a long time coming. We, the viewing public, have tended to minimize or completely ignore the potential effects of head trauma in collision sports because we embrace the violence. It’s exciting. It fuels our inner-caveman. Also, because it’s not our head.

The dichotomy is that no current NFL player is going to take a stand on concussions or the safety of the sport because they know what they signed up for. They get rich. They become famous. They love the game.

As former San Francisco lineman Randy Cross, a longtime Atlanta resident, said: “All of the guys who are playing say they accept the risks. But that’s easy to say when you’re 25 or 28. You’re probably out of the game for 20 years before the bill comes due.”

Cris Carter would confirm: Jessie Tuggle was as physical a player as there was in the NFL. (AJC photo)

Cris Carter would confirm: Jessie Tuggle was as physical a player as there was in the NFL. (Celine Bufkin/AJC)

That is why head trauma is more of an issue among the alumni than active players. They’re the ones filing the lawsuits, focusing on improving player safety, charging that the league has covered up evidence about the long-term effects of concussions.

Sadly, it has taken tragedies involving retired players to bring this issue into national focus: The suicides of Junior Seau, Dave Duerson and former Falcons Shane Dronett and Ray Easterling.

The lawsuits involve dozens of former Falcons. A suit filed in federal court two weeks ago in Atlanta named 114 plaintiffs, including 29 former Falcons. Among them are two of their more popular former players: Jamal Anderson and Jessie Tuggle.

This won’t end the NFL. But it could — and should — mandate that players sit out games more often, even to the detriment of a team’s record. Rosters could be expanded, equipment made safer.

Change is overdue.

Anderson was a physical running back. He enjoyed the collisions. “I had a high-percentage of runs where I just ran into other guys,” he said.

He is paying the price. His problems aren’t major: headaches, sleeplessness. But, “The headaches are frequent enough that they cause me concern. Some days I wake up and everything is sore and I think, ‘Wait, I didn’t play the Rams yesterday.’”

Anderson’s greatest concern is the unknown of long-term effects, and he wants to make the game safer.

“I fully expect to have issues down the line,” he said. “I hear some of the horror stories, and I cross my fingers and just hope that’s not me one day.”

Tuggle was undersized for an NFL linebacker but hit like a behemoth. According to the Atlanta lawsuit, he “suffers from multiple past traumatic brain injuries with symptoms including, but not limited to, memory loss, difficulty concentrating, vision impairment, and depression.”

Tuggle said by phone he wanted to think about it before agreeing to an interview. A few days later, he declined via an email. But he wrote that he recently was in Kansas City for his son’s graduation and read a newspaper story about former Kansas City Chiefs defensive end Art Still.

“It sounds just like my story and others,” Tuggle wrote. Still outlined similar post-career issues.

Cross has not yet joined one of the lawsuits. He has some post-career concussion symptoms, though he joked, “I’m 58, and I don’t know how much of it is just being 58.”

He has done a lot of research on head trauma and said one of the problems is “you can’t get anyone to agree on anything.” For example: What’s a concussion?

When asked how many concussions he had in his career, Cross said: “How do you define it? If you have to be knocked out, five times since high school. If we’re talking about being disoriented and wobbly going back to the huddle, probably 10 to 12 times a season.”

He played 13 seasons. Do the math.

Lining up for a play while still dizzy from the previous one was commonplace, he said.

“I’d sit to watch film on Mondays, and sometimes I was seeing a play for the first time.”

That may seem funny to us. But there are long-term and cumulative effects to those hits, and the NFL has ignored the issue for too long.

The blur of lawsuits seem to indicate the bill has come due.

By Jeff Schultz

151 comments Add your comment

hmmmm

May 18th, 2012
4:14 pm

Just another reason the bozo generation of NFL steroid users shouldn’t get anything for complaints about their bodies.

Jeffrey

May 18th, 2012
4:33 pm

Im second and I’m in st Sebastian Spain. Can’t believe it. Never been anywhere near the top. Checking the ajc though and glad my iPad can get me some shultzie. Go ajc.

5150 UOAD

May 18th, 2012
4:52 pm

Current players are getting PAID and don’t think they will be Broke and Stupid like the old players. Like Teens to Twenty somethings They Don’t Think It Will Happen To Them. They want make the money now and SUE later for even more money.

5150 UOAD

May 18th, 2012
4:53 pm

jeffrey most people are on the plog about the NCAA Football Playoffs.

The Factor

May 18th, 2012
5:08 pm

Jeff,
Great article, & we need to see more. My son plays HS football & loves to hit. Do I worry about it, you bet. I wish he played on the golf or tennis team. I can’t let him live his life in fear but I do take every precaution to see that he has the best equipment available, particularly helmet, even if I purchase it myself. High School coaches need to be saturated with better knowledge.

5150 UOAD

May 18th, 2012
5:22 pm

The Factor…….high school coaches are teachers with Class work too. They help the kids get college offers. How MUCH time do you think a high school Teacher-Coach has? He has a Family too.

5150 UOAD

May 18th, 2012
5:24 pm

The Biggest RISK any American over 14 takes is to get behind the wheel of a car and drive. Should we sue automakers because WE choose to take that RISK? We could walk to work and football players could get another job.

Firsttimer

May 18th, 2012
5:35 pm

Jeff-I think you were very diplomatic in using the word “borderline” for the bounty hunters. I have sympathy for the former players suffering from post-related injuries, whether it be concussions or just trouble getting out of bed. However, I think this whole concussion thing is being blown way out of proportion by ex-players seeking to get back at the league. It is well documented that former players are not happy with the league’s pension plan, medical coverage, and several other issues. In the midst of this issue, we ignore the fact that Deion Sanders, Chris Carter, Jamie Dukes, and several others have lucrative jobs and do not appear to be suffering from ay football related issues. Should I include Joe Namath in the mix? My point being there are just as many former players who are not complaining that concussions are or ever were an issue from having played football. The media is blowing this thing up and using players who commit suicide as proof. Sad as it is, people commit suicide every day. Was it because of job related stress? Some things are no more than what they are. By the way, sometimes I have trouble getting out of bed; and I can tell Randy Cross that for me it is definitely just age.

The Factor

May 18th, 2012
6:00 pm

@5150, I get it, but my point is they are still way too uninformed to know and watch for symtons. I had a HS coach tell me last year that freshmen can’t hit hard enough yet to get a true concussion. This is so far from the truth.

Paul in NH

May 18th, 2012
6:24 pm

Jeff,
Nice blog. It will take a while to go through the court process but the NFL is going to pay big time on this one. They seem to have followed the lead of Big Tobacco when testing how their “product” can damage the users. The NFL formed a “concussion research committee” in 1994 and for years they published papers that there were no long term adverse effects.
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/24/sports/football/duersons-son-sues-nfl-over-handling-of-concussions-that-led-to-suicide.html

Delbert D.

May 18th, 2012
6:52 pm

The NFL has covered up the long term effects? They have had a top neurology team for the past 25 years? This is a money grab.

Delbert D.

May 18th, 2012
7:05 pm

The current players aren’t worried because they are still on the gravy train. They plan to be worried 25 years from now, and then they will sue.

1eyedJack

May 18th, 2012
7:11 pm

When I was 20 years old I thought I would be 20 years old forever. With 32 additional years of experience and wisdom I have been able to overcome that notion. Every day I ache from past injury and am suffering from past vices.

Hillbilly D

May 18th, 2012
7:14 pm

Anybody who thinks there’s no long term effect from a concussion, has never had one.

Beast from the East

May 18th, 2012
7:32 pm

So can I sue my high school coach for letting me continue to play with a bone chip from my knee that was lodged in the cartilage? It has created back problems from favoring that knee that I’ve had to deal with for the past 25 years. If they don’t want the risk, then find another job. Not a single one of these folks were forced to play football professionally.
I agree with Delbert…money grab.

Matt "CHOKE" Ryan

May 18th, 2012
7:53 pm

Hey Jeff

Why doesn’t anyone at AJC write blogs about your franchise qb like you did the previous one?

Are you trying to protect his feelings? :)

I mean this is year 5 and way overdue for a playoff win.

Delbert D.

May 18th, 2012
8:04 pm

I broke the bone in my elbow playing HS football, practicing in the gym due to 4″ of snow in March. I can’t fully straighten my arm to this day, and I wake up sore in the morning. Unfortunately, the old barn has been torn down, so the evidence is gone. I went on to play 2 more years, but that shouldn’t keep me from suing somebody. I want my fair share!

Firsttimer

May 18th, 2012
8:08 pm

The Falcons are 0-3 in playoffs…not just Matt Ryan.

Matt "CHOKE" Ryan

May 18th, 2012
8:19 pm

Firsttimer

May 18th, 2012
8:08 pm

The Falcons are 0-3 in playoffs…not just Matt Ryan.

__________________________________________

So what you are saying is CHOKE should not get credit for the regular season win total?

So its true that Michael Turner, Tony Gonzalez & Roddy White should get the credit.

Thanks for admitting that :)

But still the issue was why there are no blogs about him like the previous franchise qb.

Hell, the previous franchise qb has had more blogs on here after he left than CHOKE has had for his whole time here.

The Judge

May 18th, 2012
8:45 pm

If I am the judge in this (or the defense attorney for nfl), the first question I will ask of a player on the stand is: when and where did your first concussion occur? When they answer pee wee, high school, or college, I will then ask why those organizations aren’t party to the suit. I will then ask that the case be dismissed, since the obvious ploy of simply going after Deep Pockets is then exposed.

Disgusted

May 18th, 2012
9:05 pm

That is why you are not the judge in this one, thank god.

As for the old time players being broke, most of those old time players from the 70’s and early 80’s were not making that much money.

The players have a gripe, those owners made plenty of $$$$$$$ off their backs and thank GOD the players of today are getting a fair rate of compensation. Those old time players were used.

And that HS coach who said a freshman cannot hit hard enough to get a true concussion is an ignoramous, I don’t care what kind of a local legend he might be in his little town.

Good luck to the ex players, they made the game

Hillbilly D

May 18th, 2012
9:07 pm

I’m just an ol’ country boy but the times I’ve been in court, judges didn’t question the witnesses, that was the lawyers’ job.

Firsttimer

May 18th, 2012
9:15 pm

@Matt “Choke” Ryan-What I am saying is as simple as, “The Falcons should get credit for the regular season wins and the playoff losses.

biz

May 18th, 2012
9:26 pm

““I’d sit to watch film on Mondays, and sometimes I was seeing a play for the first time.”

That may seem funny to us.”

About as funny as the “Jacked Up” segment. Attitudes change pretty quickly once people start shooting themselves in the chest.

Matt

May 18th, 2012
9:50 pm

Shultz hits the nail on the head: more rest; better technology. It’s that simple.

The technology is here – http://www.guardiancaps.com – keeping the players safe starts at the youth level and starts with all the hits they take during practice. They need more protection!

Sage of Bluesland

May 18th, 2012
10:33 pm

What about those who never make it to the NFL–which is the vast majority of players. Will the colleges be held accountable and be sued? High schools?

Sign waivers or don’t play. It’s a free country. Suing the NFL is like the suits against big tobacco.

Delbert D.

May 18th, 2012
10:35 pm

Our helmets of the early to mid 1960s had no padding for the skull except for the forehead and ears. A suspension web of approximately 2″ woven straps fitted the head and kept the plastic shell off the skull. Shock was transmitted through the straps to the skull, with the worst being the top center, where the straps joined The common practice of the time was for the stand-up defensive end to hit the top of the offensive end’s helmet with a smashing blow with the heel of both hands at the snap of the ball to disorient him. This practice was completely with the rules of the GHSA. You could feel each one of those blows down your spine. It was not uncommon for things to get a bit dark.

5150 UOAD

May 18th, 2012
10:53 pm

Disgusted…………those 70’s-80’s players were still making more than the average employee at most companies. It is not our fault they wanted to live the High Life Now instead of saving & investing for the future. Hell look at how much they make now. Still many many pro athletes are broke or owe more than they now make and file for bankruptcy. I am really crying for all the pro athletes that had sex with the most beautiful women, have multiple kids, drive a Ferrari, have houses in 2 or 3 cities, eat at the finest restaurants, travel all over the world and now they HURT from the game. I am Crying my Freaking eyes out for them.

Dongle

May 18th, 2012
11:29 pm

This lawsuit will never be taken seriously as long as entitlement guys like Ryan Stewart – who was basically in the NFL for 2 years as a backup- pile on. I view this as a complete money grab from guys like Ryan who’s careers are not doing well and/or are over. The world owes me something…….

Doc

May 18th, 2012
11:36 pm

What I a concussion is simple. Grade one is a headache after a blow to the head. I lived with headaches after practice in high school. The damage starts early. Also heading in soccer is significant trauma. The brain is like tofu hitting against bone a each jarring hit has it’s toll.

Several years ago I talked with one of the atlanta greats about the problem. He was in denial until he say john Mackey. He changed his mind after that.

Simple answer but expensive anyone participating In one of these sports needs neuropsyche tests done at regular intervals. Any significant changes should come with early treatment just like having a bone broken on the field os sprain gets appropriate treatment. This is a horrendous tragedy that is perpetrated on american males.

5150 UOAD

May 18th, 2012
11:37 pm

Dongle…..I don’t think it is the Ryan Stewart’s of the NFL but the Terrell Owen’s “Too Rich to now be Broke” players that really need the money.

5150 UOAD

May 18th, 2012
11:41 pm

DOC….put down the Ether and proofread before you hit send.

Doc

May 19th, 2012
12:02 am

5150 get over it

SawThat1nce

May 19th, 2012
12:02 am

Young, dumb, and full of you know what.
A lot of people think that they are indestructable when they are young.

Doc

May 19th, 2012
12:06 am

iPhone’s with touch screens are hell with autofills. You type something and it changes it. If you aren’t able to figure it out so be it but I expect as a tech man you can. Sorry, but I have lost many a post working to get it perfect. I commend you if you are perfect on touch screens but in the over sixty crowd I ain’t got it nor will I ever.

5150 UOAD

May 19th, 2012
12:12 am

DOC your post made very little sense with all the mistakes.

Doc

May 19th, 2012
12:15 am

Doc

May 19th, 2012
12:22 am

Here is why even a headache resolving within 15 minutes is significant for no further play

http://ajs.sagepub.com/content/32/1/47.short

Ignorance is devastating is all I am saying

As someone alluded to this starts early probably before high school and many young men are being devastated before they get there

I am saying wak up just as I was to one of the falcon greats five years ago as he was very involved in vet player issues.

Doc

May 19th, 2012
12:28 am

5150 from what you wrote, you have missed the point. this doesn’t start with the rich in the pros but at little high schools all across the nation. Get your head out of the hole and wise up. This is what has buried this problem and what frightens me. This isn’t about piling on and getting rich but about making sure people know the risks before they are playing for money and simply playing in front of some idiot following his high school team like it was the pros.

Doc

May 19th, 2012
12:31 am

5150 the more I retread your comments I see how uninformed you are. It is very sad you don’t get the extent of the problem and how the youth and males in particular are undeserved and unprotected. You got it yet or did I make too many mistakes for you to not get it though your narrow minded and blind attitude that seems to only make it as all about money?

5150 UOAD

May 19th, 2012
12:32 am

Doc I don’t think anybody doesn’t think the head injuries are serious. The thing is that the Players chose to play the game for the money and do not deserve to sue the NFL. Should every Service Person that was injured during WAR have the right to SUE the US Government for injuries? We know War is dangerous but we send people to do it because it is the job they Chose to do. Soldiers get paid a lot less to DIE than Football players do to get head injuries. The game of Football is not going to go away.

Doc

May 19th, 2012
12:33 am

Am I making sense yet to you yet 5150?

5150 UOAD

May 19th, 2012
12:38 am

DOC if you are a doctor then you also know the sport that causes the most trips to the emergency room and surgeries is not football but Cheer leading and Gymnastics. Girls can’t really go PRO to get paid in that sport but they hurt their lil girl bodies for life. Who do they SUE for doing something they love that causes them pain for life?

Doc

May 19th, 2012
12:39 am

With these law suits the game of football may go away if it doesn’t wake up. Pop Warner football will be at risk as will every high school program going forward. Brain injuries don’t heal dude is the bottom line and folks need to wake up to that and that message was not out there in the 70 and 80’s. A bell ring was a badge of courage not a fractured leg and you got back up and out there as soon as you could walk in my time.

Football coaches up and down the levels of play are stupid on this and want to remain ignorant as long as they can because of the obvious ramifications of it. We all have to wake up to it or football may be over as law suits begin to fill up. The is one very important one for college being played out now, high school will be soon to follow.

JSS

May 19th, 2012
12:42 am

Don’t worry Sage, your precious colleges were indemnified by Congress back in the 1910s in regards to injuries and deaths (with the rare exceptions when it is a “pattern of deceit” in their practices (not the practice as a physical event, but the actions in their performances, a per se violation)… It would take a long a concerted effort to pull that lawsuit off (I mean a tobacco industry like suit) – that would mean all states Attorneys-General working “together” for years to get it done… You know that is not going to happen in the South (Southern colleges are mostly large state institutions!… They are all in the same flea bitten bed!

Doc

May 19th, 2012
12:47 am

5150 I treated a female volleyball player for visual difficulties and got her back to seeing again clearly after her second event in one month left her vision fuzzy. The coach wanted her back out there as quickly as possible and the family wanted her playing in the state playoffs as she was a junior and they wanted a scholarship for her. In spite of my warnings they went ahead and I strongly suggested some kind of a head gear and of course this was not heeded

I thing the data is skewed that you use since most footballers don’t get to the er if they are still walking. The point is also you don’t have to lose consciousness to get a concussion if you read one of the scholarly articles I left for your edification. It is irrelevant about who gets to the er as that is a spurious numerator as the true denominator is an unknown if you catch my meaning there.

Yesi was a trauma surgeon for further reference.

Doc

May 19th, 2012
12:47 am

5150 I treated a female volleyball player for visual difficulties and got her back to seeing again clearly after her second event in one month left her vision fuzzy. The coach wanted her back out there as quickly as possible and the family wanted her playing in the state playoffs as she was a junior and they wanted a scholarship for her. In spite of my warnings they went ahead and I strongly suggested some kind of a head gear and of course this was not heeded

I thing the data is skewed that you use since most footballers don’t get to the er if they are still walking. The point is also you don’t have to lose consciousness to get a concussion if you read one of the scholarly articles I left for your edification. It is irrelevant about who gets to the er as that is a spurious numerator as the true denominator is an unknown if you catch my meaning there.

Yesi was a trauma surgeon for further reference.

JSS

May 19th, 2012
12:47 am

Never use a point of an individual suing a government entity (a State or a Federal government) as an example regarding monetary lawsuits. It can only happen if the Government gives legislative permission to do so…

5150 UOAD

May 19th, 2012
12:51 am

DOC……..What about Snow Skiing/Boarding? Go Cart Racing? Bicycle Racing? Motor Cycle Racing? Golden Gloves Boxing? Karate? Skate Boarding? Name anything a KID loves to do and they can get head injuries doing it. People are not that stupid. Maybe the Doctors and Scientists didn’t have all the Tests to Prove it but Common Sense tells you getting knocked out or a hit to the head is DANGEROUS. Sue the MMA promoters sue Don King too. People don’t need it written down I don’t think. I think people still have enough Common Sense to know what is Dangerous.

Doc

May 19th, 2012
12:55 am

5150 one other thing, I have seen many a ct scan that shows absolutely nothing and have gone back to the neuro intensive care unit and looked at someone in a vegetative state on a ventilator being fed by tubes and there is no obvious reason why. If you haven’t heard me I am saying wake up to the problem and many young people are being injured. I doubt cheerleaders are as much risk for these injuries but some of the things they are doing without any safety precautions are stupid. OSHA would have a hey day. Why are we risking our youth?