Life After Football

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    Steve Young   Quarterback, San Francisco 49ers (1987-99)

    Steve Young played quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers and suffered seven concussions before retiring in 1999. A Hall of Fame quarterback, Young told FRONTLINE he worries about the toll that routine head hits are taking on linemen and running backs. This is the edited transcript of an interview conducted with FRONTLINE’s Jim Gilmore on March 27, 2013.

    One of the friends you called ... he said that you were asking, "Wait a minute; is there more to this than just football?," that you had concerns about that. What was going through your mind?

    That guys put themselves in jams. It's hard to leave the game -- everyone knows that -- and it's hard to age. And there is all kinds of issues going on.

    I always likened retirement to falling off a cliff, and then you have to kind of brush yourself off. A short one you can recover from, but you have to brush yourself off and kind of start over again.

    And no matter what you've got prepared -- I went to law school -- no matter what you think you've prepared for, it's not an easy transition. I've always thought that we -- here I am telling you on TV, but I just feel like we should take a lead in helping guys transition, because it's hard. That's the other thing you worry about, is just the things that guys transition at young ages, at mid-30s, to new lives, different lives, lives out of the spotlight. It's not easy.

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    Jim Otto   Center, Oakland Raiders (1960-74)

    In 14 seasons of play for the Oakland Raiders, Jim Otto played had a punishing history of injuries. He needed 74 surgeries for his football injuries, including the amputation of one of his legs. This interview was conducted by FRONTLINE’s Tom Jennings on Dec. 22, 2012.

    ... OK, ... you started by saying that suicide is not something that people talk about in the NFL, or have [not] until fairly recently anyhow. But has it always been one of those things that's been in there that players have known about other players?

    I don't know that much about other players regarding suicide. I don't know, but I only know basically what's in my mind and in my heart, and what I told you about what I was thinking. And everything is actually true to my heart, to my mind. I don't know what other players are thinking. I haven't necessarily told them what I'm thinking. I know that all of us guys I know in some way, shape or form have down times, when there's a certain amount of depression in our minds and our thoughts, in our heart, and it's not a very comfortable situation.

    Is that related to the game, you think?

    It came from the game. It came from the relations with the game, yes.

    What do you mean? I don't understand.

    Well, in some cases guys are heroes, and all of a sudden they're not heroes. It's like cutting their leg off, let's say. They're no longer heroes. Losing my leg didn't bother me one bit other than I wanted to make sure that my wife still loved the guy with one leg. That was the most important thing to me. And she says, "I didn't marry you for that leg anyway." So when you retire from football and you've been involved in football, some kids -- it never happened to me. When I retired I was down. I was depressed because I wasn't running out on the field anymore, when they announced "At center, Jim Otto." No. It was Dave Dalby. And I went, "Yay." I was happy for him. But that didn't bother me that much. It just -- you know, maybe I choked a little bit and thought, oh, boy, I used to do that. But a lot of guys no longer get the "Hey, Joe, how you doing. " ...

    ... Maybe probably more so in my life is the pain that I'm going through. I've been going to pain clinic now for about a month, two months, where they're working on various different things on my body to release the pain from my neck, from my back, from certain parts of my body that's really bothering me. ...

    ... I'm hurting like a son of a gun. I am really sore, and I'm trying to figure out the best way to take care of that. Now, nobody in America knows that, like they know about the guy who had a concussion, like the guy who is in class-action suits, suing the National Football League because they had a concussion. I'm over here, I had a couple dozen concussions or more, and I hurt. I'm not complaining about it. I'm telling you about it right now: I hurt. And that is something that I'm dealing with. Nobody is helping me. Nobody is giving me any special help. And over here these guys are wanting the world. They're suing everybody for a lot of money, which I don't like because that's going to hurt football in high school, Little League and in pros. I think what they're doing, they're going to cost so much money that the owners and high schools won't be able to afford the insurance for the game and stuff like that. I'm against all that. Let's play football.

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    Jim Otto   Center, Oakland Raiders (1960-74)

    In 14 seasons of play for the Oakland Raiders, Jim Otto played had a punishing history of injuries. He needed 74 surgeries for his football injuries, including the amputation of one of his legs. This interview was conducted by FRONTLINE’s Tom Jennings on Dec. 22, 2012.

    What is the result exactly? Enumerate the results.

    Well, the results with myself, you know, has been very difficult. I've had 74 surgeries all told throughout my body, all over my body. I've had various different cognitive tests regarding my brain. I've had scans of my brain, and it's been explained to me what is really wrong with my brain. I can't really explain it to you here. If I had a graph I could show you it. But I'm still going at my age, and --

    You seem completely with it and pulling up words and memories and having no problems at all. But you're saying there are issues?

    I have issues, yes, I have issues. I don't know if it is directly connected to my brain, my issues, but I have problems with dizziness. I forget words. You say that I come up with words. Well, I'm very fortunate that I can do that, because there are times that I can't remember people's names. But I don't think it's that important, you know, to remember someone's name. I love everybody, and I love to know them; I love to remember their names, but sometimes if I can't remember a name, I'm not going to fret over it and get upset.

    I can't perform like I used to for a lot of different things physically, but I don't think it's directly connected to the brain. The doctors have led me to believe that yes indeed, due to using my head and the number of concussions I have had, taken me down this road to where I do have some problems with memory [and] that I will have more, but I'm not worried about it. ...

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    Lisa McHale   She was shocked when her husband, who had never had a concussion, was diagnosed with CTE.

    McHale’s husband Tom, a former Tampa Bay Buccaneers lineman, was the sixth former NFL player to be diagnosed with CTE. Here, she describes her shock at the diagnosis, particularly since she had never known Tom to be diagnosed with a concussion. McHale now works as director of family relations at the Sports Legacy Institute. She spoke to FRONTLINE’s Jim Gilmore on May 21, 2013.

    So describe him in retirement. Does he go downhill pretty quickly? Or how does it work?

    Initially I would say no. When he retired, it was interesting, because he had that option of going into a tenth training camp. He said, "You know, I really am ready to move onto this restaurant part." So he said, "I think I'm going to do this internship with this restaurant and make $35,000 a year or $30,000 a year or something, and work long hours training as a restaurant manager."

    And you know what? He loved it. He absolutely loved it. It actually was a good friend of his who was the owner/operator of that particular -- it was a LongHorn Steakhouse, and they had a great training program. He'd get up 4:30 in the morning, whatever it was. He was at that time a morning person. He loved it. He thrived on getting up early. He'd accomplish more by the time, you know -- and be home by -- I don't recall, early afternoon or whatever. But he enjoyed that.

    Those early years he was very much Tom, very much passionate about what he was doing. And this was something he had been looking forward to since he was a kid.

    So I think it's an interesting thing, because you hear so much about professional athletes having a really, really hard time retiring, and I would have to say honestly that Tom was not among them. It was so interesting for me later when he was having difficulties, when he was struggling with and admitting that "You know what? I'm really depressed. I can't do this anymore. The pain is killing me," and all this. And I really actually wondered, is it possible that he could have had this delayed experience that all professional athletes go through, that he now is struggling with life outside of the celebrity?

    So what were you thinking about why these symptoms were coming about?

    I really was caught very much by surprise with it. It's so hard to really put a finger on it, because the changes were very, very gradual. It's not like one day he's Tom, and then one day all of a sudden he's depressed. I think it was probably a very, very gradual thing over a number of years. But I'm sure they began somewhere in the 30s, because by 40 it was obvious to me that there was something terribly wrong with Tom. But I had no idea what it was.

    It was very, very -- it was scary. I remember the night we were lying in bed, and he said to me: "Lisa, I'm not enjoying the restaurant business anymore. I think I want to get out." And this is McHale's Chop House. This is his baby. This is his brainchild. He loved doing it. He loved every aspect of it initially. And how this came about and how we got to where we were I didn't know.

    I was scared, because I thought, if you're not enjoying this, what is it that you're going to enjoy? And it was scary.

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    Sydney Seau   Daughter of Junior Seau

    Sydney Seau is the daughter of legendary linebacker Junior Seau, whose 2012 suicide shocked the sports world. Seau says football changed her dad, leaving him forgetful, distant and prone to fits of anger. This is the edited transcript of an interview conducted with League of Denial author Mark Fainaru-Wada on Feb. 15, 2013.

    … The times that you were able to spend with him over the last few years, did you, you know, in addition to the sort of changes you talked about, what, if anything, did you notice about him physically and the sort of toll that football had taken on him? Anything?

    Physically? Well, did you ever see his hands, first off?

    No.

    His hands were disgusting. They were just, like, every single knuckle is basically like 10 times the size, like so gross. I don’t even know how he played the uke, with those huge hands. I don’t know, he could surf and he could obviously work out, but he was getting slower.

    And it was difficult to see, because I think Jake and my mom always bet him that when Jake turned 16 he would beat my Dad in a 40-yard-dash. And I actually don’t know if he would have beat him, because he was just gaining more weight and kind of letting himself go. And it was weird for me to see, because he’s always the one at like 5 o’clock, like, “Let’s go on a run, like we’re going on a run.” And he kind of went off of that, off of his routine that was basically his lifestyle. I would say, yeah, he definitely changed.

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    Sydney Seau   Daughter of Junior Seau

    Sydney Seau is the daughter of legendary linebacker Junior Seau, whose 2012 suicide shocked the sports world. Seau says football changed her dad, leaving him forgetful, distant and prone to fits of anger. This is the edited transcript of an interview conducted with League of Denial author Mark Fainaru-Wada on Feb. 15, 2013.

    You know, we've asked everybody, what about his memory? What kinds of things did you start to see? Anything you noticed about his memory?

    Yes. I've always known him as being irresponsible with his keys and phone. It's kind of a joke, because I kind of take after him in that sort. But he never knows where his stuff is, and I thought it was because he's always had so many people around him where he would be reminded and he doesn't really need to have that responsibility for his things, but after a while it's kind of like: "Really? You just left everything in a restaurant and I picked it up for you, and kept it, and you didn't notice it was gone until I showed it to you? Why? What's going on?"

    Literally, one big thing that I remember was my brother Jake had a lacrosse game at Torrey Pines, and I told him that day that he had to be there at a particular time, and my mom's like: "He's not going to come. He's not going to come." I'm like: "He's coming; he's going to be here. Don't worry." Like, I'll show you; he's actually going to get here on time.

    And I text him 20 minutes beforehand, I'm like: "Where are you? They're warming up right now." He's like, "What are you talking about?" And I'm like, "Jake's game." He was like, "I thought that's tomorrow." And I'm like: "No, I called you this morning. We talked about this. You need to be here. Get here now." And he obviously, like, got there as soon as he could, and he made it before the first half and everything.

    But it just was like, "Come on, I know you're not that irresponsible. I know we actually acknowledged the fact that you were supposed to be here." Because with him, you always have to repeat things, especially in the last, like, five years. You would have to repeat something like you're explaining it to a 4-year-old. Maybe five times would be the charm. You don't really know. But I'm the type of person where, like, I'll do it, because I'm just used to it. I'll just be like: "Hey, be here. Oh, wait, pick me up. Pick me up." Ten minutes beforehand: "Are you close?" And then he would be like, "Yeah, yeah, I'm doing it; I'm here, I'm here."

    Because he used to be so punctual and so on top of everything that it slowly got really bad, really -- I wouldn't even say slowly. Like, quickly it got bad. And it just stayed bad, where his memory was just not there. ...

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    Harry Carson   Linebacker, New York Giants (1976-88)

    Harry Carson is a Hall of Fame linebacker who played for the New York Giants from 1976-1988. Here, he discusses why he regrets ever having played football. This is the edited transcript of an interview conducted with FRONTLINE’s Michael Kirk on Sept. 4, 2013.

    Do you think you have it, CTE?

    I would bet you probably $5 that I probably have it. When I look at myself and I feel what I go through on a daily basis, I can't help but think that I've got it. And to be more specific with you, I think that when I have headaches, it starts right here in my front temporal left lobe. So I know there's something going on there. ...

    Headaches?

    Headaches.

    Memory?

    Blurred vision occasionally, processing information. A little forgetful sometimes, but I remember everything that I feel I need to remember.

    You know, the brain controls everything, and for me, there are times when I feel I should be emotional about certain things, when someone passes away, when they die. There are times when I don't feel anything -- I feel bad that someone has died, but I just don't feel what I think I should feel when someone passes away. And when I feel that lack of emotion sometimes, I think there's something wrong here that I don't grieve the way that most people would grieve.

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    Harry Carson   Linebacker, New York Giants (1976-88)

    Harry Carson is a Hall of Fame linebacker who played for the New York Giants from 1976-1988. Here, he discusses why he regrets ever having played football. This is the edited transcript of an interview conducted with FRONTLINE’s Michael Kirk on Sept. 4, 2013.

    I have a piece of tape -- I don't know how to use it in the film -- where you're talking about, it's after you've done the, and I probably won't because I don't know how to use it in the film, you've been at the Hall of Fame ... it's just a fragment. But you're doing an interview, and you lose it. You are really pissed. Do you remember this? And there's profanity; there's all kinds of things involved in this. And I think you're saying you're there to protect your brothers. Do you remember this moment?

    Yeah, I vaguely remember it. I don't talk about it a whole lot, but when I'm sort of forced to recall what some of the guys who I've played with have had to deal with, and especially many of the guys who are older who have already died, who they had to wait and wait and wait until the NFL did something to improve their lot in life, they didn't have certain benefits that should have been afforded to them, or accorded to them, I get emotional about that, because, again, I go back to [the fact that] there was nobody speaking up for them. So as a result, they suffered and they died, and they died without dignity. And the one thing that you don't want, that I never want to see a player do, and that is die without dignity.

    I remember when my father was dying, and I remember coming home from school. I was going for my junior year into my senior year, and I came home after finals, and then I spent a couple of weeks with him. But I could see the decline of my father. He went from standing upright to being bedridden, and then I had to give him a bath. I had to cut his hair; he would lose the ability to control his bowels. And I remember looking at him and how ashamed he was, how embarrassed he was. And I remember having to go back to summer school, and I cut his hair, and I put him in bed, and I left him in bed, and I was standing at the door, and I said, "Dad, I have to go." He said, "I know; I love you."

    A couple of days later, I got a phone call from my coach, who told me that my father passed away. All I can remember is my father is gone, but how he lost his dignity in the process of transitioning to the next life. And I don't want any player to lose his dignity, because football players are very proud individuals. You don't get especially to the NFL level without a certain amount of pride and just taking pride in the way that you play the game. You take pride in the way that you conduct yourself.

    For a football player to lose his dignity, it's shameful, and that's the reason why I get emotional about the issues of former players, players who have played the game, because they should never be placed in a position where they're going to lose their dignity. The most important thing that you can do for an individual like that is make sure that when he passes, he has not lost his dignity. ...

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    Related topics:
    Mike Webster's Legacy

    Jim Otto   Center, Oakland Raiders (1960-74)

    In 14 seasons of play for the Oakland Raiders, Jim Otto played had a punishing history of injuries. He needed 74 surgeries for his football injuries, including the amputation of one of his legs. This interview was conducted by FRONTLINE’s Tom Jennings on Dec. 22, 2012.

    ... What about ... when you heard about Mike Webster's decline afterward, you know? He became homeless, those stories. What were your first thoughts when you started hearing those stories after his retirement?

    My first thoughts were, I got sick. I got upset. I said why isn't there somebody taking care of him? Why isn't there somebody that can help him? There wasn't anybody. We had the same thing, similar, happen to a center who took my place after I retired, Dave Dalby. ...

    Do you associate Dalby and Webster's post-career declines and troubles with the hard-hitting nature of the game?

    I look at Dave Dalby, because he used to tell me he wanted to follow me in my footsteps. And he told me that so many times: "Pops, I'm going to be just like you. I'm going to be just like you, Pops." And he hung with me. We'd go hunting together; we did a lot of different things together, Dave and I. He would come and help me put up hay for my horses and stuff like that. And we were together a lot. And that's why Sally and I came to the forefront ... Did anybody do anything for Mike Webster with Pittsburgh? Was there anybody that helped Mike Webster go through rehab at that time? When you have nobody helping you in a situation like that, I would imagine it's a pretty empty feeling to be going through life with that problem and nobody is coming to help you. And I wanted to be a help to David. I wanted to help Dave Dalby and Sally did to because we loved him and I didn't see that happening in Pittsburgh with Mike Webster. And that is the bad thing.

    We need people in the National Football League now, and I think we have various different projects going within the NFL -- the NFL Players Association, the NFL Alumni -- to help these guys now, because I did go to the Alumni, I did go to the Players Association and get monies from them for other rehabs for other players.

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    Steve Young   Quarterback, San Francisco 49ers (1987-99)

    Steve Young played quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers and suffered seven concussions before retiring in 1999. A Hall of Fame quarterback, Young told FRONTLINE he worries about the toll that routine head hits are taking on linemen and running backs. This is the edited transcript of an interview conducted with FRONTLINE’s Jim Gilmore on March 27, 2013.

    And the conversations among guys that have played or are playing now, your old friends, the people that you interview now for ESPN, is there a rising understanding of what's going on? Is there a rising fear of what might be going on?

    Oh, yes. Oh, yeah. There is a lot of focus. A lot of guys that played through the '80s and '90s and into 2000s like I did are really watching this closely. I think that they look at their own histories and realize the injuries they knew they had and went back in the game.

    They knew that, we were big boys; we couldn't -- no matter how the culture of the place, no matter what, you knew that I was either hurt and I need to step off or I'm on. I think most guys would take that responsibility. I did that, and I have to assume the responsibility of that.

    There is a real fear about this other issue that you don't know. I don't have a tremendously long concussion history, but boy, I played linebacker for 15 years. I assume that's probably going to come out someday. Now that's the fear that I think a lot of guys are feeling right now. It's just the unknown, as you can imagine. Of course the unknown is the fear.

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    Steve Young   Quarterback, San Francisco 49ers (1987-99)

    Steve Young played quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers and suffered seven concussions before retiring in 1999. A Hall of Fame quarterback, Young told FRONTLINE he worries about the toll that routine head hits are taking on linemen and running backs. This is the edited transcript of an interview conducted with FRONTLINE’s Jim Gilmore on March 27, 2013.

    ... So after the game, you're done with the career, but you're working for ESPN, and you're on the sidelines.

    Right.

    And all of a sudden you start looking at the game in a different way that the public doesn't understand.

    First of all, I wish everyone who loved football could stand in the quarterback's shoes just for a play, because I think it would be tremendously humbling to anyone who loved the game to say, "I didn't -- I had no idea." You can think about what it would be like, and the cameras are getting better at giving that perspective, that one that the skycam comes down and you get a sense of it, but you just -- you don't know the lack of visibility.

    Most throws that guys make in the NFL are semi-blind. I think that once you're out of the game, like I was out three or four years, I would go back to a Monday night game, I'd stand on the sidelines, and even I would say, "These guys are crazy." ...

    And the game hadn't changed that much. It's just that I had left the track, right, and what I was used to, a much slower life, it just seemed way too much. I think that's what I'm trying to describe. Think about anybody learning to drive. You start in the outside lane and pretty soon you're [on the] inside lane with a sandwich in your hand, talking on the phone and changing lanes in a rainstorm. I mean, it's just, you get used to it.

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    Steve Young   Quarterback, San Francisco 49ers (1987-99)

    Steve Young played quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers and suffered seven concussions before retiring in 1999. A Hall of Fame quarterback, Young told FRONTLINE he worries about the toll that routine head hits are taking on linemen and running backs. This is the edited transcript of an interview conducted with FRONTLINE’s Jim Gilmore on March 27, 2013.

    ... What would you say to people who would listen to you and say: "You know what? He's a real optimist. The reality was he was in the game for a long time. He got his bell rung quite a few times. And you look at what they're finding now, and maybe you were lucky to get out"?

    Yeah, when you asked me what I was afraid of and what other guys are talking about and what their fears are, these aren't going away. We're seeing this from our friends and cohorts, and it's not the guys that had necessarily the episodic concussions. It was these micro-concussions, and I think a lot of them are position-related.

    I really worry for my running back brothers. I really worry about my lineman brothers. I mean, that's the truth. I'm not 70. I don't know, but no one knows. I mean, no one knows about their own -- my wife had three concussions because she fell on the floor, and then the -- everyone worries about long-term effects of injuries.

    But what I'm really worried about are these fellas that did it every day all summer long, all fall long, every practice, every game, every walkthrough, every spring ball. That's what I worry about. As a quarterback, those are the times when Joe Montana and I were all playing golf while those guys were banging away. I worry. I worry about myself -- there's no question; we all do, because we have our own histories -- but I really worry about my fellow brothers in different positions.

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