We’re dedicating a section to tell you some of the personal struggles of the men – and their families – who made the NFL what it is today.

Jeff Winans

Jeff WinansWe fought 17 years of hell to get my Disability Pension. We filed in 1981 and tried to do everything the Union told us to do. We were denied for 3 years. I was told I could do “Sedentary” work. We were granted arbitration in 1983 and went to arbitration in July 1984. We won arbitration for Total and Permanent disability from my Football-related injuries. Our check indicated something a lot less, but we were told after the line-of-duty was over, it would increase.

Then in Nov. 13th, 1984 during a move, I suffered an accidental gunshot wound to the right leg. When I was able to go to my NFL appointed neutral physician’s physical, the doctors looked at my leg injury and said I was no longer disabled from football but from the gunshot accident and pulled my pension! We fought them for the next several years even as Brandi also fought for my Social Security disability benefits. In 1988, after a lot of research on her part, Brandi requested to re-visit a neutral physician NFL doctor whom we had seen 2 years before. This time, the NFL Doctor stated that I was disabled from football as my back had always qualified (degenerative disc disease). We thought for sure we had won, only to receive a letter stating that due to the gunshot accident, they would give me only Total and Permanent non-football related: $870 per month plus $100 for our son. We were devastated.

With Brandi as the sole support for our family, we needed the money. At that time, we had no more fight until the Collective Bargaining Agreement in 1993 finally allowed a new category: Degenerative Disc. So Brandi wrote another letter asking for us to be reclassified to that new category and re-sent all of our records as there was a new Board. She wanted to go and plead our case personally but we were told that it was a closed meeting and all the Board Members would get a copy of our request. For several more years we were sent to other NFL physicians from Miami to Atlanta to New Jersey. We had to produce tax records, SSI records and medical documents.

Finally in Oct. 1997, I was awarded reclassification to degenerative disc category. We were never classified as Total and Permanent Football category, even though we proved in arbitration before the gunshot accident that I was totally disabled from football. Over the years I have deteriorated even further due to the multiple concussions I sustained and am seeking some brain scans. Brandi has been an advocate and fights for other players and their families to this day. I am coming forward to give support to all the other players and families because we don’t want anyone else to have to go through the hell we’ve gone through. Until recently through Brandi, I had no idea how many other players and families are suffering. We must stand together to make progress.

Jeff Winans
Buffalo Bills, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Oakland Raiders 1973-1980

George Visgar

April 15, 2009 at 1:00 pm

I felt compelled to write after viewing the article on concussions.

I was a 1980 6th round defensive lineman draft pick of the NY Jets and cut at the end of preseason. The 49ers picked me up the 3rd game of the 1980 season and I suffered a serious concussion on first play during my first game  against Dallas. (I had a number of concussions during my 12 total years of organized football, as we all did).  I also fractured my sacral 8 vertebrae at some point during the season and was finally diagnosed as a fracture in January or February after the season.

I injured my knee early in 1981, my second season with the 49’ers, and subsequently had a knee surgery, which was followed by an emergency brain surgery in September of the 1981 season (I developed hydrocephalus – water on the brain – and they installed a permanent VP Shunt in my brain to drain spinal fluid into my abdomen). During the spring of 1982, just after we won the 49ers first Super Bowl, I had 2 more emergency brain surgeries 12 hours apart to replace the shunt and was given last rites during one of the surgeries.

Not surprising to any of you, I was forced to sue the 49ers for Workers Comp to have the 2nd and 3rd brain surgeries paid for, which I finally won and settled my claim in 1986 (no dollar settlement, just past and future medical and vocational rehab where I just asked to finish my Biology degree).

Once the dust settled after winning my Work Comp suit I went back to school in 1986 and finished my biology degree in 1990 at the age of 32 (after 4 more brain surgeries in one 10-month period while in school). I had always gone to chiropractors for my neck during my playing days and in the late 80’s after one of my brain surgeries my neurosurgeon requested x-rays which showed 2 serious compression fractures of my C-6 & C-7 vertebrae (which I’m sure many of us have).

I have since had a total of 9 brain surgeries and 2 more knee surgeries repairing the original damage, including an experimental GoreTex ACL Transplant by Dr. Steadman in Lake Tahoe, CA c.1985.

In addition, I developed Grand Mal seizures years ago due to my brain surgeries and am currently on 150 ml of Phenobarbital for the seizures and 20mg of Lexapro to try to help my MAJOR short term memory problems.

I have been a Wildlife Biologist since 1990, and owned my own small Environmental Consulting firm, Visger & Associates Inc. from 2003 – October 2006 when I merged with a Geotechnical firm from Washington to launch their first California office. I was let go January 7 of this year due to the economic downturn and my problems with my short-term memory deficit.

I have major concerns about my ability to take care of my family (wife and 3 kids), as I’m now 50 years old and it’s getting harder and harder for me to focus on the most mundane things and stay on task. I have trouble even balancing my checkbook and am currently trying to resurrect my business as I’m still unemployed. Brain scans taken 2-3 years ago (?) showed shading and damage to my short-term memory area and emotional area of the brain.

I tried to get involved with the University of North Carolina’s Head Injury Study on Retired Athletes, as I thought they may be able to learn something from me and prevent future players from going through what my family has had to endure but was rejected as being too injured!

I would like to know how many others there are  like me out there. We all know there is strength in numbers and as Jeff Winans stated at the top of the page, we need to stand together to make progress, just like we did while we played.

George Visger
Principal Wildlife Biologist
Visger & Associates Environmental Consulting
Grass Valley, CA 95945
O (530) 272-4834
C (916) 812-2257

Wayne Hawkins

Oakland Raiders 1960 – 1970

(as told by Sharon Hawkins)

Sharon Hawkins here again! Yes, Wayne’s wife and caregiver since ’05.

Friends and family noticed Wayne’s short term memory deficit in ’98. After about 6 job losses ’98-’04, he had a PET brain metabolic brain scan, at my insistence. Sure enough, the radiologist saw he’d had 2 strokes and Frontal and temporal lobe damage and early onset AD. Wayne was diagnosed with a combination of vascular dementia and AD. He sustained a hit in a game against KC in ’63. It put him in the hospital with a 12+ hour coma. He played against Denver the next week and was knocked out in the first quarter. He played the rest of the game, of course. Ernie Ladd hit Wayne’s head against a goal post in ’63. Wayne’s jaw was broken from side to side. He played with the head injury to the occipital area of the brain and with his teeth wired together for a month.

That’s the way it was and now he suffers from various knee, shoulder and brain injuries. He receives a pension of $201.36 a month (Yes, you read that right – Two Hundred Dollars a month!) for playing 10+ years with the Raiders! I believe this is a travesty!

And since the 88 Plan states relatives cannot receive compensation for caregiving for their demented, retired and disabled husband/relative, it means that as his wife, I can’t receive a salary for assisting him daily. The Visiting Angels of Danville, CA care for Wayne 2 days a week for 4 hours each @ $12 per hour (EDITOR’S NOTE: For those at the NFL & NFLPA who obviously can’t understand math, that’s over $400 a month – $200 a month MORE than you pay Wayne!)

I would have to divorce Wayne in order to be compensated to care for him! I understand that there could be individuals who would misuse the money from the 88 Plan but I have given it a lot of thought to go through with this option in order to give Wayne the daily care he requires and receive compensation at the same time. It IS a full-time job.

By the way, Hello to Frank Youso. So good to read your message! Memories from the Raiders of ’60.

Conrad Dobler