A few years ago The Tampa Tribune surveyed members of the 1979 Buccaneers, the franchise’s first winning team and one that came within a win of making it to the Super Bowl.
That season was a joyous one for long-suffering Bucs fans, but what the Tribune’s Ira Kaufman and Joey Johnston found when they contacted former Buccaneers was anything but joyful.
They wrote: “Though only in their 50s, the men’s medical histories reveal decades of misery caused by a brutal and unforgiving sport — bad knees, chronic back aches, arthritis and signs of cognitive impairment ...”
The Bucs players’ condition was hardly unusual among former NFL players. Particularly alarming were the number of players who had begun to shows signs of dementia at a young age. Researchers attributed this to repeated concussions, which at the time were common in the violent sport.
So it is good to see the National Football League agree to settle a lawsuit by ex-NFL players who accused the league of concealing the long-term dangers of repeated concussions.
The NFL does not admit any wrongdoing in the settlement, which still must be approved by a federal judge. But what’s important is that the league agrees to spend $765 million that will be used to compensate ex-players with neurological problems, examine other former players and fund research.
This should help suffering players and their families immensely.
More than 4,500 players joined lawsuits against the NFL, but the announced settlement would cover expenses and compensation for all 18,000 former players.
Consider Jimmie Giles, a tight end with the 1979 Bucs, who estimated he had a dozen concussion during his NFL career.
Beyond painful knees, back and neck, the four-time Pro Bowler had to give up his financial services business because he began forgetting things and becoming disoriented. He declared bankruptcy.
When the Tribune talked to him in 2010, the NFL had denied his disability benefits.
The NFL may have been slow to recognize the dangers of concessions or acknowledge its responsibility for the ailments of former players, but it has become far more vigilant about head injuries and the need to prevent players from playing or practicing until they fully recover from a concussion.
This is far different from the past, when players were urged to get back on the field as soon as possible. Neither coaches nor players understood at the time the horrible potential consequences.
Now they do, and the league has a responsibility to aid players who unknowingly sacrificed their health and mental faculties while helping make the NFL the preeminent sports league. The settlement will help make partial amends, but the NFL still must do more to protect players.