Evan Weiner: Why Steve Bartkowski is Suing the NFL

May 15, 2012

Posted with the express consent of Evan Weiner:

THE BUSINESS AND POLITICS OF SPORTS
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Tuesday, 15 May 2011
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BY EVAN WEINER
NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM
COMMENTARY
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Steve Bartkowski wikipedia

Steve Bartkowski wikipedia


Steve Bartkowski, a newly elected member of the National Football Foundation’s College Hall of Fame, is one of hundreds of former National Football League players who are suing their former employers for what best can be described as negligence for allegedly not telling league employees, the players, of the possible long time impact on the body of playing football. Bartkowski, who played with the Atlanta Falcons and the Los Angeles Rams between 1975 and 1985, has an assortment of ailments that came from playing.
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Bartkowski “signed up” for the lawsuit for family reasons although the suicide of a former teammate Ray Easterling in April may have played a role.
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“I signed up basically for my wife,” said Bartkowski. “I just don’t want her having to wheel my chair towards the sunset so I can watch it set. I am more concerned about her and her quality of life if things should take a turn for the worst. I mean I got dinged as many times probably a lot of these other guys.”
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Bartkowski looks physically good for a man of about 60. But he has many scars from playing the game.
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“I think for the first time we are starting to see some of the effects, the long term effects. The game. I don’t know if we tracked injuries like they are tracking them now. And I think we have some evidence that people can point to and say this is what has happened,” said Bartkowski. “I am all for trying to make the game safer for guys who are playing or at least make them aware of what some of the long-term sort of debilitating effects can be.
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“What have I got? Well, I got two knees replaced after nine operations. I am sure there are some other things that are approaching. I have a bad hip, I got a left elbow that doesn’t work very good anymore. But I think we know what we sign up for. It is a physical game. You are in a car wreck every weekend that you play in and sometimes multiple car wrecks, so it’s part of the issue. I hope it doesn’t end up shaping the game going forward but I do hope the guys who need help get it from the appropriate sources.”
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The “appropriate sources” should start with the National Football League Players Association since benefits are collectively bargained between the owners and players. The NFLPA did a rotten job protecting the membership’s long-term future by asking for “Money Now” in 1982 and has always been more concerned about money than long time health issues. The players played games on awful surfaces in places like Philadelphia and Houston yet that didn’t seem to be a concern of the NFLPA.
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“I think so (referring to both the NFL owners and the NFLPA), those are the guys that are driving the bus on this,” said Bartkowski. “I think the NFL has acknowledged that there are some long tern effects from the game and I think that is the reason for some of the safety measures that Commissioner (Roger) Goodell is trying to implement and sort of evolved the game.”
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Players from Bartkowski’s era got as much as five years of medical benefits after they were cut or retired. Some of the Bartkowski era players are now living in the United States safety net and receive Social Security Disability Insurance and are on Medicare long before their 65th birthday.
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“I don’t think we even got five (years) when I was playing, it may be that now,” he recalled.
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“The new collective bargaining agreement, I think, covers a lot more than what the old one did.”
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So who is responsible for the care of the discarded players?
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“That’s a great question,” said Bartkowski. “I think the major thing in the (law)suit was how much did the NFL know about the concussion issue and when did they know it? I think that to me is really the issue. If there were guys out there doing the head banging and didn’t know the long term effects could cause early onset dementia and some of the other things that we are seeing out there in the retired player community, I think somebody is liable for that I would think. Not only the player when he signs his contract, when he signs up for that sort of a violent sport but at the same time the issue is what did they know and when did they know it?”
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Bartkowski played with Ray Easterling for three years in Atlanta between 1975 and 1977. Eastlerling shot himself to death in April. Two former NFL players Easterling and Junior Seau committed suicide within a month of one another.
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Easterling was 62 and seemed to have the same physical and mental health issues that face many former players. Reportedly he suffered from depression and insomnia. He underwent 25 different surgeries and had a hip replacement. In March 2011, Easterling was diagnosed with dementia in March 2011.
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“I had a former teammate of mine who was in the early stages of dementia, Ray Easterling. He just decided he wasn’t going to put his family through it and he ended up taking his own life” said Bartkowski. “I watched Ray going downhill. He was one of the hardest hitting guys. He never backed down on a drill and never backed down on a Sunday afternoon. He was a great teammate but I don’t think he had any idea what he was sacrificing later on in the latter stages of his life.
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“I talked to him, he asked me to write a letter in support of his case and I just looked at his chronology of his slide down the hill and was happy to write the letter and say what I saw. Ray was one of the smartest, sharpest guys that I ever teed it up with so to speak and to watch him where he couldn’t carry on a conversation was very difficult.”
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Memory loss is a common thread in the discarded players’ community.
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“I’ve got some of that too,” said Bartkowski. “It is hard for me to remember a lot of things.”
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The lawsuits have been filed, consolidated and will eventually go to court. Nothing is going to be settled anytime soon but the game of football figures to be put on trail.
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“I’m sure it will,” said Bartkowski of how long the lawsuit may take before it is finally settled. “There are extenuating circumstances in all these different cases. But I think if it does nothing more than move the game to safer turf and safer territory for the guys who love it and would have played it if they didn’t get paid to play it. I was one of those guys, I loved the thrill of Sunday afternoon and being out there and playing with the boys. I didn’t know what the long term effects might be and didn’t really care about them at that point in time.
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“If we can make the game safer and make it a little more easier on you in your twilight years then I am all for that.”
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Evan Weiner


Evan Weiner, the winner of the United States Sports Academy’s 2010 Ronald Reagan Media Award, is an author, radio-TV commentator and speaker on “The Politics of Sports Business.” His book, “The Business and Politics of Sports, Second Edition” is available at www.bickley.com or amazonkindle. He can be reached at evanjweiner@yahoo.com
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2 Responses so far | Have Your Say!

  1. Gordon Wright
    May 16th, 2012 at 6:29 am #

    Gordon Wright - NY Jets

    It looks like Steve and all the Hall of Famers and all the guys who spent more than four years in the NFL are finally realizing that the NFL Alumni and the NFLPA did not represent the former and current NFL players at the last CBA. We were cash cows and the current players are cash cows and the money is going one way back to the investors before, during and after football.

    Just look at the NFL Network and Lindsay Soto Rhodes who sits on her throne making money from current and former football players but she does not hesitate to criticize every NFL player. Look at Warren Sapp, Jamie Dukes and Chad Ochocinco – Lindsay Soto Rhodes criticizes all of them constantly. Where are her ethics?

    I’m a dog lover and our pets are treated like our children. Why are the NFL Players treated with less respect than the owners’ pet dogs? I can guarantee you that even the NFL owners’ dogs get regular trips to the vets! Almighty God loves the NFL Players he made and will execute judgment on behalf of these men.

    Lindsay Soto Rhodes needs to be fired from the NFL Network. Give me her job. Maybe that way I can finally afford to pay for my medical costs and retirement home costs like John Mackey finally received at the end.

    Gordon Wright
    Philadelphia Eagles & New York Jets
    1967 – 1970

  2. Nick Bebout
    May 23rd, 2012 at 4:42 pm #

    Nick Bebout

    Steve-

    I liked your words – Ray E. was a great teammate! A true hitter – relentless ’til the whistle blew. I only wish I might have shared his company in the last two – four years. May he R.I.P.

    Nick Bebout
    Atlanta Falcons 1973 – 1975
    Seattle 1976 – 1979
    Minnesota Vikings – 1980