September 01, 02012
There was a story on the screen. It was about the NFL filing a motion to stop the law suits being brought by 3,377former players. The league is saying it’s a collective bargaining issue.
The issue has been waged for a few years now. This is my first time weighing in on it. I’m not sure why I haven’t before now.
Sometimes pain and injury are an exact science. For some things there’s an easy remedy.
The late Dave Duerson.
Five years ago I awoke one morning and my knee was sore. On the day before, I hadn’t done anything out of the ordinary. But there was a very specific pain in one specific area. I ignored it, thinking it would eventually subside. After a few months, nothing had changed. I made a doctor’s appointment. He scheduled an MRI. Turns out I had a torn meniscus. I had surgery. Now it’s better.
Virginia Woolf searched for the meaning of life in this rambling, stream of consciousness kind of way. I didn’t like reading her because of it. But now I think maybe there’s something to that.
“The great revelation perhaps never did come,” said Woolf. “Instead, there were little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark.”
When I was in middle school, I was playing in a flag football game. I fell and my head hit the ground.
For a few seconds, things were clear, but distant—like looking through the wrong end of binoculars.In my very first high school game, I was carrying the ball and as I went down, I was hit in the back of the helmet. My vision was slightly askew, the way the old television sets looked when you moved the antennae. It didn’t last long, though. My vision returned to normal by the next play.
There was a time in college, during spring practice, when I took on the fullback on a sweep. I felt a buzzing in my head and heard a dull ringing. It subsided. No big deal.
During a game against USC, our quarterback got hit really hard. When he got up he staggered around as if drunk. On the plane ride home, he sat with this glazed look on his face. We made fun of him.
In my second year in the league, in a preseason game against New England, I came up and made a tackle on the running back. I can’t remember his name but I had played against him in college, I think. After that tackle, I remember a ringing in my helmet and a pain that went from the left side of my head all the way down to my neck. Went away, though.
I had a conversation with a former Colts teammate. He told me he was thinking about adding his name to this law suit. He remembered a game in which he had to block on punt protection. During the play before he had taken a blow to the head and he didn’t quite know where he was. His alignment was off and he got a minus from the special teams coach.
He said that was one of the things he did remember. But there were other things—mundane things—that he couldn’t remember, like his reasons for walking into a room.
I met Dave Duerson a couple of times. The first time was at a Notre Dame reception. I remember how nice he was, how warm and personable. The next time I saw him—which is the last time I saw him, was at a game between Notre Dame and Florida State in Tallahassee. Before the game, Duerson came over and said hello. He had a big mustache and a light in his eyes. The lasting image is the cigar in his mouth. We had a one minute conversation and his cigar never moved. My wife and I always laughed about that. I was shocked when he died.
Chronic traumatic encephalopathy.
I was on the phone with an editor once. We were going over some story. I can’t remember what it was. Yes, I do. It was about Jim Caldwell. She had to go and asked for my cell number. As I was telling her the number I was looking at my desk, at a scrap of paper on which was written another phone number. This made me stumble over what I was saying. It made me forget the number I was reciting.
She replied, “What’s up with that? Is that the effect of a concussion, or something? Then she laughed. It was an annoying little cackle, the kind of laughter that doesn’t entice you to join in. I didn’t join in.
A definitive healthcare plan for life would be great. It would also be astronomical in cost. It’s a state issue for now. State laws allow professional football players to file injury claims. Most of the claims involving NFL teams have centered on specific injuries. California is the only state where employees are allowed to file a cumulative trauma case. Trauma. How do you prove that?
So far the only conclusive evidence has come after an autopsy.
Alan Grant was a four-year starter and all-conference player for Stanford University. He played five years in the National Football League with the Indianapolis Colts, San Francisco Forty Niners, Cincinnati Bengals, and Washington Redskins. He has written for ESPN the Magazine and The Postgame, and appears frequently on radio and television.