CLEVELAND - Bernie Kosar’s vitamin treatments usually last around an hour and a half, leaving us plenty of time to talk on a recent visit. In talking about the concussions Kosar suffered through his career and the impact they’ve had on his health, the subject of the movie “Concussion” came up.
The 2015 movie follows Dr. Bennett Omalu, a coroner who discovered CTE — Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy — while doing an autopsy in 2002 on former Pittsburgh Steelers Hall of Fame Center Mike Webster who died at 50. CTE is a degenerative disease of the brain found in those who have suffered repetitive brain trauma.
One by one, Kosar spoke of the film’s central figures and the personal experiences he’s had with many of them, including Webster who was Kosar’s center at the Pro-Bowl.
“Back in the day practice was worse sometimes than the game, “ said Kosar of the hits Webster took. “They had a drill called ‘inside drill,’ now that wasn’t hard on me because it was just a running drill but a guy like Mike Webster had to block on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday every week… a guy named Mean Joe Greene.”
“You know you’re running, everyone knows it’s a run, the coaches are screaming at you and he’s got to bang heads and Mike is not a big guy but Mean Joe Greene is a big guy and he had to do that every day for more than a decade.”
The film also highlighted the tragic suicides of Dave Duerson of the Chicago Bears, who Kosar played against in college, and the Philadelphia Eagles Andre Waters, who Kosar knew as well. Both men, along with Hall of Famer Junior Seau of the Chargers, committed suicide in a way their brains, like Webster’s, could be studied for CTE which can only be diagnosed after death.
All three had it.
Kosar said Seau was like a little brother to him and he was with him in Florida a week or so before he took his own life in 2012.
“There was a lot of pressure that was on him,” he said. “It’s just a lot of stuff that runs through your head at night when you’re not sleeping and then your heads thumping,” Kosar said of his own experience and Seau’s.
“He was getting 400-500 calls a day from his family and supposed friends who supposedly cared, ‘I just need one more check, I need one more check.’ Well, when you’re playing football and you’re making eight figures it’s easier just to give people money.
"When you stop playing, well, you stop getting paid and yet people still, they’d never go back – family and friends, never go backwards they always want at least what you gave them with a smile or more and you try to balance that...there’s no money coming in and you’re not sleeping, you’re not feeling good and all of those issues really compound themselves.”
“I’m very fortunate to have come across stuff like this,” he said of the mega dose vitamin treatments that brought him relief from his concussion-related issues. “I know my family could care less, they didn’t believe me, you know, when you say you’re not sleeping, your head hurts, 'oh, you’re just making it up.' You know, my own family didn’t care, they thought I was embellishing, needed attention but still wanted all of the money,” said Kosar.
As for the NFL concussion settlement, Kosar believes it will bring many of these people back out and into the lives of many former players.
“They think that these numbers are going to be millions, they’re not going to be. Between the attorneys fighting amongst themselves, they’re going to get a part of it, the hoops you’re going to have to jump through to prove you don’t sleep and your head hurts and all of the MRI’s and wasted time, stuff to prove that you are having and not faking,” he said.
“I can give you 14 discs right now of MRI’s of my head. Is the 15th one going to show any different?”
Under the NFL Settlement, the greatest amounts will go to the younger players diagnosed with ALS, Parkinson’s Disease, Alzheimer’s Disease, Level 2 Neurocognitive Impairment (moderate Dementia) and Level 1.5 Neurocognitive Impairment (early Dementia).
The reality, Kosar said, is given the number of former players whose brains have been found to have CTE, “if you played five or ten years odds are you have something,” he said. “I mean statistically it’s in that A+ category of negative that you probably have it.”
He’d like to see, included in the settlement, information about alternative treatments like the holistic ones he’s receiving that have brought him relief.
“You know I probably waited a little too long but at least I’m trying to hit it on the earlier side of it before things really start to go south and I’m watching guys older than me and some guys younger than me where it’s going south and it goes south quick,” he said.
“Is it the complete answer? I can’t give you that just yet but I know it’s helping me you know and that’s a start towards having hope for a lot of the guys who really have no hope right now who are just trying to get through the day.”