Gay Culverhouse Fights For Brain-Damaged Football Players

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 25:  Benjamin Watson...
Image by Getty Images via Daylife

Football players, as any player or spectator knows, hit each other hard, repeatedly. It’s their job. But years of it can result in mild traumatic brain injury — the same trauma now playing into record rates of PTSD and impairment among Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, whose brains have been severely jarred by IED explosions. And TBI causes permanent behavioral and cognitive damage.

Gay Culverhouse, former team president of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, is now testifying before a Congressional committee on behalf of the former players for her team, on behalf of all players still tossing themselves — as their coaches or managers or owners expect them to — into bone-crunching piles.

Her testimony included this:

“Foremost is the fact that players need to be protected; the medical system harbored by the NFL must change. There should be doctors without vested interests and allegiances available to the players at no penalty. There should be medical advocates for the players. There should be an independent neurologist on every sideline. There should be salaries free of performance bonuses so that players are not pushed beyond what is reasonable. There should be mandatory guidelines for concussions specifying the number of weeks a player MUST sit out games. There needs to be a call for common sense to prevail in the National Football League.”

“Recently one of my former players referred to me as a “rebel with a cause”. By breaking ranks with the National Football League, I have become that rebel. My cause is the health and wellbeing of all football players whether they are eight year olds or twenty-two year olds. Safety must come first. Business must come second.”

Culverhouse reserved her strongest scorn for team doctors who shoot up players at halftime or overlook injuries:

“The team doctor is invested in the performance of these players who make the team. He does not want to be seen as lacking in assisting the coach in his selection. The team doctor wants these players to succeed in helping the team win games. The team doctor gets to the point where he will do anything to enhance the performance of these rookies. With very few draft choices, the decisions on whom to draft are critical to a team’s success. Hence, from the beginning, the team doctor is invested with the coach in the success of their choices.”

“This alignment is the crux of the problem for the players on the team. The doctor is not their medical advocate. He’s not even conflicted. He knows who pays his salary; he plays golf with the coach and the owner not the players. He is management; he makes decisions for the management side of operations. He understands the bottom line is business. The team that wins, sells more luxury seats, skyboxes and fills the stadium. Therefore, more parking is sold on game day along with more beer, sodas, and cotton candy. That is the term of success.”

“If a player suffers an injury, the team doctor’s role is to find a way to have that man on the field the following game, if not the same game. The player is shot with cortisone
during the game to see if the pain can be numbed if it is a joint or other such problem. If it is a head injury, he is told to “shake it off”. The players get to the point that they know better than to complain that they have suffered a concussion. They would rather throw up in the huddle away from the fans’ lines of vision and keep themselves in the game. Other players will guide them through the next few plays until their double vision resolves itself.”

Yesterday, one NFL wife, Eleanor M. Perfetto, reports George Vecsey in today’s New York Times, described her husband’s behavior as so changed she had to put him into a facility as was she unable to care for him. She said her husband, former lineman for seven years, Ralph Wenzel, was lucky to have a “pushy broad” of a wife as his advocate.

Thank God for these angry, outspoken women.

6 thoughts on “Gay Culverhouse Fights For Brain-Damaged Football Players

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  3. misterb

    I’m a football fan, but I side with the players. There’s tough and there’s stupid, and gambling with your long-term sanity is stupid.
    If they reduced the armor, players would have to take more precautions. It would still be a good game, just cause less damage.

    Ban the helmet!

  4. Caitlin Kelly

    Do you really think fans would accept this? The same problems occur with boxing. It seems that extreme violence is considered an essential part of this sport, no?

    1. misterb

      I can only speak for this fan; what makes football (and boxing) special is the immense commitment it takes. But helmet to helmet hits aren’t what makes the game great – it’s the combination of chess and ballet played at the speed of an Olympic sprint with the power of a weightlifter. Unfortunately, the win at any cost mentality of the ownership is starting to poison the spirit of the game. We want our heroes to survive, not to be crippled at 45, but no owner wants to be the first to back off for their players. That’s why I’d like to see them get rid of the helmets. If rugby players can play without them, why not football players?

  5. ewillse

    Excellent writing Caitlin, and I look forward to more discussion about how football can evolve to best serve both player health and fans’ expectations.

    I am a football fan, and a contributing editor for Women’s Voices For Change. Our top story today is about Gay Culverhouse and the NFL hearings.

    Personally- I’d still watch flag or touch football, if it came to that.

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