Years of banging his head as the center for the Pittsburgh Steelers left Mike Webster with a brain injury that he said explains recent criminal charges for forging a Ritalin prescription.
"I didn't know how severe the damage was until November of last year," said Webster, who read from a prepared statement and did not take questions during a news conference Wednesday at a Pittsburgh hotel. "I would never intentionally let any of you down or cause you any pain."
Webster, a member of four Super Bowl champion teams, dabbed at tears as he apologized to family, friends, fans and former teammates for any embarrassment caused by the Ritalin charges. They were filed last month in Beaver County, near his Monaca home just west of Pittsburgh.
Webster, inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1997, had refused help for recurring financial and health problems since retiring in 1990 after 17 years in the NFL. He was homeless for a time in the early 1990s.
Webster, who insisted on short-sleeved jerseys even during the bitter cold of winter games in Pittsburgh, said pride and arrogance prevented him from recognizing the symptoms of his brain injury. He said he welcomes assistance.
He showed off his four Super Bowl rings and his Hall of Fame ring, joking that they would be for sale soon. Then he said he wanted to dispel rumors that he had sold the rings to get out of financial trouble.
Webster was accompanied by former Steelers teammates Mel Blount, Rocky Bleier and Randy Grossman, as well as lawyers and doctors.
"The repeated head trauma has caused damage to my brain and thought processes," said Webster, known as Iron Mike during his career for his ability to absorb punishment and play 10 years without missing a game.
"I do promise you this -- no matter what happens, I will answer the charges, I will pay my debt to society, whatever it is claimed to be," Webster said.
Dr. James Vodvarka of Trinity East and West Hospital in Steubenville, Ohio, said Webster has a medical condition that requires the use of Ritalin. Neither Webster's doctors nor his lawyers would address the charges that Webster allegedly sought the drug with forged prescriptions.
Vodvarka declined to name Webster's condition, but said it was a cognitive dysfunction brought on by repeated blows to the head during the center's long career.
Vodvarka and another of Webster's doctors, Dr. Fred Krieg of Parkersburg and Wheeling in West Virginia, said that the injury interferes with Webster's judgment, memory and attention span.
Vodvarka said Webster will get progressively worse, possibly experiencing a type of dementia as time passes.
Bleier said Webster probably played some days when he shouldn't have, but said other players did, too.
"When you're there, you want to play and there'that iron man mentality. You don't want to sit on the bench. You want to strap it on and play. Ultimately, that takes its toll," Bleier said.
Blount said Steelers from the Super Bowl teams in the 1970s always thought of themselves as a family as much as a team, and were anxious to help Webster, a man most looked to as their anchor during difficult contests.
"We've got to make sure he gets the best medical treatment he can get, but at the same time, show that his teammates support him," Blount said.
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