My football career began at age 11 playing Pee Wee Pop Warner for the West Stockton Bear Cubs. During my 3rd year of Pop Warner, I was knocked unconscious in a meaningless "Bull In The Ring" drill and was hospitalized. I went on to to play for the undefeated and nationally ranked Amos Alonzo Stagg High in Stockton, CA in 1975, and attended the University of Colorado on a football scholarship in 1976.
While at Colorado, I majored in Fisheries Biology, played in the 1977 Orange Bowl, and was a 3 year starter at defensive tackle. The New York Jets selected me as a 6th round pick in the 1980 NFL draft, but I ended up playing the 1980 and 1981 seasons with the San Francisco 49ers, who had picked me up before the 5th game of the 1980 season, a few days prior to the first Dallas game. After two days of practice I was put in the game early in the first quarter and suffered a major concussion on my first play. The trainers and doctors laughingly told me later that week (when my memory returned), that I went through over 20 smelling salts during the game to keep me on the field. They would hand me a handful each time I came out, pop a couple to clear the cobwebs, and I would go back in.
Early in the following 1981 season I underwent knee surgery, and soon after developed hydrocephalus and underwent the first of what are to date 9 emergency VP shunt brain surgeries. They drilled a hole in my skull, inserted a tube into the ventricles in the middle of my brain, and ran the tube to a pressure valve they installed in the back of my head. From the pressure valve, they ran a tube down the side of my neck, through my chest, into my abdomen to permanently drain spinal fluid 24/7. I also developed Gran Mal seizures. When my shunt fails, I go into a coma and will die within a day or so unless operated on.
Four months after we won Super Bowl XVI, my shunt failed, I was brought to the hospital in a coma, had two more
brain surgeries 10 hours apart and was given last rites. I was also given the hospital bills. At age 23, I began a nearly 5 year battle with the 49ers to sue for Workers Comp in order to get my hospital bills paid. I won my case in 1986, but during the battle, I had two additional knee surgeries repairing what the 49ers team doctor never repaired. My final knee surgery in 1984, involved an experimental GoreTex ACL transplant which they don't do anymore.
I have been asked many times over the years how many concussions I suffered. I used to count the ones I was unconscious on or couldn't remember games from (~6). They now classify a concussion as hitting hard enough to see
stars. I had 1,000s over the years. It is the responsibility of all parents and coaches of young players to ensure they are coached properly. It should be a requirement of coaches and trainers to pass a protocol certification training session before being allowed to coach or clear a player to return to play. Parents need to be informed about the dangers of head injuries. TBI affects the entire family. I know. It's still impacting mine.
As I testified at my Worker's Compensation hearing against the 49ers in 1986, "A traumatic brain injury is like throwing a rock in a pond. The ripple effect as to the number of people impacted is huge."
San Francisco 49ers 1980 and 1981
Survivor of 9 NFL-caused Emergency VP Shunt Brain Surgeries
Recipient of ZERO NFL Benefits