Today and Yesterday

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January 12, 2016

Well, it’s been over six months since my last column.

For all of you who have written asking where had I gone, the answer is simple.

I severed my relationship with the National Examiner with the idea that I would finish my latest book which I have been writing entitled “Excerpts of a Full Life. The work has turned out to be a tome, I have more than 600 pages written… (boy, when I finish it’s truly going to need a great editor) is nearing completion.

Now, I can turn my attention to once again delivering a column on a timely basis.

How to do this, posed a quandary. The solution I have come up with, I hope meets your approval. Today, I am starting my own Blog. The title of my Blog as you can see from the header is “A SPORTS SCRAPBOOK”.

Hopefully, the title will prove appropriate. I shall try to blend current events in the world of sport by tapping into my reservoir of knowledge based on over 60 years of actively working in the World of Sports.

I have been privileged to work in all facets: as an athlete, a coach, an announcer, a TV Producer and an Executive. I shall be comparing the old with the new… telling behind-the-scenes stories of which in most instances, I have first-hand knowledge.

I shall also be speaking out when I see a wrong that has been committed.

Today, let’s take a look at serious injuries. In particular, the NFL CONCUSION EPIDEMIC and the lasting damage that can be done.

The late John Mackey was one of my closest and dearest friends. I even sat on the Board of his foundation. John, was a great one!

This Football Hall-of-Famer is credited with creating the position that today is known as “Tight End”. According to most experts, John was the Greatest Tight End in the first 50 years of the NFL’s existence.

Coming out of the same high school in Long Island as the great Jim Brown, John followed him to Syracuse University. Jim wore number 44 there. John once told me he opted for a jersey with the numeral 88. With a glint in his eye, he predicted he would be twice as good as Jim had been.

John, an unselfish man dedicated himself to helping better the lot of all NFL players. As the First President of the Players’ Association, he fought the league for better working conditions, player pensions and contract minimum guarantees. He had many small victories and here and there a major one… His efforts reminded me of the game we played as kids, “Simon Sez”.

It was as if the NFL was Simon and they controlled everything he attempted to achieve. In 1981-82, I was the NFLPA’s Sports and TV Consultant. In this capacity, I became knowledgeable of the fight, put on by the Union for the good of its players. They were thwarted at every step of the way. The owners unless forced to were not about to spend any extra monies

His efforts saw the NFL prevent his entrance into the Hall of Fame way past the time it was his turn. It took overwhelming pressure from fans around the nation to the NFL to relax its stand.

John, like so many others suffered both mentally and physically from the trauma of being hit in the head many times during his playing days. Toward the end of his life he suffered dreadfully from Dementia and eventually Alzheimer’s until his passing.

His courageous and beautiful wife Sylvia fought for cognizance by the league of this existing problem. She was able to get the League owners to agree to pay each retiree suffering from brain-related injuries, $88.000 a year to help with medical expenses. The number 88 is in honor of John’s jersey number. However, this is a pittance of what the medical costs amount to.

This year, the public has recently been made dramatically aware of the problem in great part due to the Biographical movie, CONCUSION. Will Smith gives an Oscar worthy performance as Pathologist Dr. Bennett Omalu.

Dr. Omalu while performing an autopsy on NFL football player Mike Webster,(he played for the Pittsburg Steelers and the Kansas City Chiefs) found he suffered from Neurological Deterioration Disorder similar to Alzheimer’s Disease.

He named the disorder CHRONIC TRAUMATIC ENCEPHOLAPITHY and published his findings. The NFL and its multi-billion dollar industry attempts to and continues trying to debunk these findings. However, Dr. Omalu is on secure ground.

The NFL points to safety steps it has taken to avoid such injury. In particular, they talk about the advancement in Helmet Technology. The Helmet, it must be noted, is made of a hard non-flexible plastic. True, they have improved the padding on the inside to cushion any blow. What they can’t alleviate is the bouncing that takes inside the cranium.

As my long-time friend, Dr. Ferdie Pacheco, Ali’s doctor as well as other noteworthy Neurosurgeons and Neurologists, with whom I have consulted have noted, “The brain floats inside the hard shell of the cranium which in turn is encased in the hard Helmet and any hit of significance will bounce the brain like the little round ball in a pinball machine, thus incontrovertible damage is done”.

Football remains America’s Game and the injuries will continue. I have put the question to many of my friends, mostly former NFLers, “Knowing today what you know about the injury possibility, would you still have played?’, the answer for the most part is “Yes.”

So what is to be done? I do not know the answer, but I do know this. The NFL must continue research into ways to make the game safer and parents must think seriously before they sign the permission slip little Johnny brings home from school allowing him to play the game.

 

               Shelly Saltman can be contacted at ……. www.asportsscrapbook.com