The Seattle Times Company

NWjobs | NWautos | NWhomes | NWsource | Free Classifieds |


Our network sites | Advanced

Originally published Tuesday, October 27, 2009 at 2:34 PM

Comments (0)     E-mail E-mail article      Print Print      Share Share

Ditka calls for more action on head injuries

Mike Ditka has a message for the NFL and Congressional leaders: More action, not studies.

The Associated Press


Mike Ditka has a message for the NFL and Congressional leaders: More action, not studies.

On the eve of a Congressional hearing on head injuries among NFL players, the Hall of Famer sent a loud and clear message toward Capitol Hill and the league during a news conference Tuesday to announce his Gridiron Greats Assistance Fund is expanding its medical program.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith are scheduled to testify before the House Judiciary Committee, along with former players and medical experts, and Ditka said he hopes they "come to a conclusion and quit financing these studies" so more ailing retirees can get the help they need.

The hearing in Washington comes in the wake of a preliminary study done at the University of Michigan for the NFL that indicates retired pro football players may have a higher rate than normal of Alzheimer's disease or other memory problems. Among the issues examined will be the lasting impact of head injuries, how to limit them and how to compensate players and their families.

"You can run studies for the next 20 years. Somebody's going to say, 'It's directly related, well it's not directly related.' Well, who cares? Let's take care of them," Ditka said.

A Hall of Fame player who later coached the 1985 Bears to the Super Bowl, Ditka said he was contacted about speaking at the hearing but was unable due to prior commitments. He also said he has no interest in running for political office even though he remains an icon in Illinois and is not shy about endorsing candidates.

He toured with Sarah Palin during the presidential election, but he insists he has only one campaign on his mind at the moment.

In the past, Ditka has criticized the players' association for ignoring the medical needs of former players with serious injuries who can't afford to pay for their care. His stance has softened now that Smith is leading the union.

He sees progress by the league and players association along with his own group, which has raised more than $1.5 million and assisted more than 100 former players and their families since it started in February 2007. On Tuesday, Gridiron Greats announced a partnership with doctors at Chicago's Rush University Medical Center to give pro bono care similar to what medical groups in Allentown, Pa., and Tampa, Fla., are providing. The group is also helping former players in need secure discounted prescription and dental plans along with health insurance.

By the Super Bowl, Gridiron Greats hopes to be working with five to seven facilities around the country, and its goal is ultimately to be raising $750,000 to $1 million annually.

"We certainly think it's possible," Gridiron Greats president and CEO Ken Valdiserri said.

Chicago sportscaster Mike Adamle said his fellow former NFL players who remain in good shape "want to reach out and help us as well." Adamle recently competed in the elite Ironman World Championship in Hawaii and donated the pledges he received to Gridiron Greats.


Although stars are paid well, many players only last a few years in the league and they no longer qualify for the NFL's disability benefit by the time problems arise later in life.

"Supposing a guy comes in at the age of 21, 22 or 23 and he plays five years," Ditka said. "He's out. He's out at 27 and nothing shows up before he's 39. He can't qualify. You're saying it's hard to collect disability anywhere in the country. That doesn't make sense because these injuries are starting to show up in the 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s."

Ditka is "amazed" to see how many players have already suffered season-ending injuries this year even though the league "has done a great job" trying to protect them.

Even so, he said, "There's got to be a better program going forward for the former players because the league is about the players in the league today, the players who were in the league and the players who will be in the league."

E-mail E-mail article      Print Print      Share Share

More Sports

NFL, union resume labor talks at mediator's office

UPDATE - 08:52 AM
Hundreds attend funeral for fallen Mich. player

UPDATE - 09:40 AM
Norway's Tarjei Boe wins men's biathlon at worlds

Crying is OK, but admitting it is apparently not

NEW - 08:46 AM
Tripoli ruled unsafe for international soccer

More Sports headlines...

No comments have been posted to this article.

Get home delivery today!



AP Video

Entertainment | Top Video | World | Offbeat Video | Sci-Tech