Disabled NFL Players Tell Woes To Congress

Former Chicago Bears player and head coach Mike Ditka, right, listens as former NFL player Brent Boyd, left, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 26, 2007.
AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
Aging NFL retirees told Congress Tuesday that playing professional football left them with broken bodies, brain damage and empty bank accounts. Lawmakers said they may get involved if a better pension and disability system isn't created.

For six years in the 1980s, Brent Boyd slugged it out in the trenches as an offensive lineman for the Minnesota Vikings.

"We didn't even know what a concussion was," Boyd told CBS News correspondent Cynthia Bowers. "You got your bell rung, you got dinged."

For years, Boyd suffered in silence as depression, dizziness and constant headaches left him unable to work. Still struggling to make ends meet, he only came forward after he learned that severe brain damage - dementia usually seen only in boxers - was discovered during recent autopsies of NFL greats Mike Webster and Andre Waters.

Even though two of three NFL doctors agreed Boyd is disabled as result of football-related concussions, his request for full disability of about $8,000 a month was rejected by the league and its players' union, reports Bowers.

Former NFL players told a sympathetic House Judiciary subcommittee tales of multiple surgeries, dementia and homelessness, all while trying to fight through the red tape of the National Football League and the NFL Players Association's disability system.

The league and the players association said pensions are improving and there's no need for Congress to step in.

Boyd talked about his bouts with homelessness as a single dad and brain damage he blames on multiple concussions from his football days. Curt Marsh, an Oakland Raider from 1981-87, described a leg amputation, more than 30 surgeries and multiple doctor visits before he was approved.

The late Mike Webster, the Hall of Fame Pittsburgh Steelers' center who suffered from mental illness that was widely attributed to head injuries, died homeless in 2002, his lawyer told the committee.

The players from the '50s, '60s and '70s laid the groundwork for the popularity of the NFL, a billion-dollar industry, and should be treated better, lawmakers said.

"Perhaps there ought to be a legal solution," said Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah.