CLEVELAND (WJW) – More former NFL players have turned to the FOX 8 I-Team revealing their fight to get help with brain injuries they say they suffered after playing pro football.
Legendary Cleveland Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar recently spoke out saying he gave up trying to get help from an NFL class-action concussion settlement.
Now, more players and doctors tell us why they consider the process so frustrating and difficult.
“They hope we just quit. They hope we go away,” former NFL cornerback Richard Shelton said.
This follows what we had heard from former NFL receiver Daniel Buggs.
“Sometimes I think they try and delay you and hope that you die,” he said.
“I have been involved in this process for seven years,” said retired defensive back Jeff Griffin.
Those former players all say they now struggle in their daily lives.
“I get the blinking in my eyes, I can’t see stuff. I see little lines and stuff going through,” Shelton said.
Shelon played for the Steelers and Broncos.
“If I didn’t get the hits, the knocks that I’d gotten, maybe I wouldn’t be in this position of not being able hold my fork or cut my meat,” Buggs added.
We also recently heard strong words from Sam Gash, a retired fullback who had even won a Super Bowl with the Baltimore Ravens.
“Back then, you couldn’t get a concussion and sit out two weeks, three weeks and keep your job,” Gash told us.
“Concussions. What are those? Coach use to give us some salt and you go get back in,” Griffin added.
All of the players we spoke with say they’ve either been denied benefit payments through the NFL Concussion Settlement or they’ve had claims delayed for years.
The system was created after former players sued the National Football League over long-term problems from head trauma.
Again, Kosar, one of the most popular Browns of all time, told us he stopped trying to get help through the settlement.
He now focuses on helping himself get better with a healthy diet and his own lifestyle changes.
“I wasted a good seven, eight years in massive darkness and massive pain,” Kosar said. “Spending the time to go down the path of trying to heal yourself and make yourself better was and is an obsession of mine.”
We found the NFL class-action concussion settlement finalized back in 2017. The league agreed to pay as much as $5 million to each former player diagnosed with early level brain diseases connected with football.
We also spoke with retired Cleveland doctor Alan Lerner.
“I took care of, or assessed, about 80 people in the NFL concussion settlement,” he said.
Dr. Lerner, a neurologist specializing in memory disorders, evaluated NFL players from his practice in Northeast Ohio. He explained why some former players get frustrated.
“It is a low-trust environment. Let’s be real. The players don’t trust the NFL. The NFL doesn’t trust the doctors. The doctors may, or may not, trust the NFL or the players,” Dr. Lerner said.
He went on to say, “The threshold was set and it was a legal settlement. So, representatives from the players and the league both agreed to this. But, where do you set the bar? The bar is set fairly high.”
We also went to Dr. Alina Fong and Dr. Mark Allen. They run a clinic in Utah and have treated former NFL players although their clinic is not part of the NFL concussion settlement.
“One of the foundational problems that we are seeing with traumatic brain injuries, especially concussion, is the stigma that, in order to truly have a brain injury, you need to be a vegetable,” Dr. Fong said. “What we want to do is, what can we do to help you? What can we do to give you back your quality of life?”
The I-Team has reached out to the NFL by email about a half-dozen times asking to discuss the issue.
The NFL referred us to the settlement website.
That website shows, as of early November, more than 1,675 claims have been approved with more than $1 billion awarded.
But, it also shows that more than half of the claims filed have not yet been approved.
Shelton says he’s been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, but he’s been denied three times and he’s appealing again.
One of his recent denial letters shows that a neurologist diagnosed him with Alzheimer’s Disease. But, the special master deciding the appeals denied the claim, finding Shelton did not meet the criteria or standard needed to qualify for a payout.
“It’s like moving the goal posts back again,” Shelton said. “I’d like to get this thing behind me. For them to pay off the claim, let me move on with my life and get the help I need, the medication. Let me enjoy the time with my family.”
Gash and Griffin both say they’ve been diagnosed with early onset of dementia. They also hope to get part of the class-action settlement to pay for treatment.
They also do not plan to give up.
We asked Gash, “how long do you keep fighting?”
“I guess, until you die,” he said.
“I am not going to quit, not going to quit. I will be here doing this until I take my last breath, Shelton said.