Though Hall of Famer Rayfield Wright’s memory is getting weaker all the time, he still remembers his first day playing in the N.F.L. Wright recalls being knocked out, then waking to see stars as he lay on the field unable to move. “It was as if I’d just been hit in the head by a baseball bat,” he said. He looked toward the sideline, looking to Coach Tom Landry for help. Landry glanced at him, and then turned away. “Lord,” Wright thought. “I’m in this by myself.”
Just recently though, Wright has acknowledged publicly that he is not in this by himself anymore. He is among more than 4,500 players who have sued the N.F.L., stating that the league hid for years what it knew about the dangers of repeated hits to the head. This month a federal judge rejected a proposed $765 million settlement that would compensate players for their injuries. The judge felt the settlement was too small to pay for medical tests and treatment for the thousands of players who face or may face health problems linked to their N.F.L. careers. The N.F.L. has argued that its offer was “fair and adequate.” The league generates revenue of about $10 billion a year. The issue may not be resolved for years, though some men like Wright need the settlement money now.
Wright said that for the longest time he was “too proud” to tell anybody about his deteriorating health. “You don’t want people to look at you any differently. When you’ve been at the top of the N.F.L., you don’t want people to know. You’re supposed to be tough and invincible. So if something’s wrong with you, you try to hide it. Which is exactly what I did.” He will often walk into his kitchen and forget why he went there. He has gotten into several car accidents because of seizures. “I’m fighting right now while I’m talking to you. I have a headache. I don’t want to keep talking. But I know it’s time,” he said.
After his retirement from the N.F.L. Wright became a motivational speaker, often reciting “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost. But he remained quiet about the frightening things happening to his mind and body. He quit a banking job after 2 years because doing math had become too difficult. It took several visits to doctors before he was diagnosed with early-stage dementia in 2012.
He showed off his last Cowboys helmet, which had a broken face mask and dents and scratches. While he wouldn’t answer a question about whether he felt resentment toward football or the people who ran the league, he did talk about the “younger guys.” “These young players, they have no idea what’s in store for them,” he said. “They don’t know.”
Wright hasn’t decided yet if he’ll watch the Super Bowl this Sunday. He wants to watch, but his attention span is too short, and he’s too depressed to sit through an entire game, even if it is the Super Bowl……. nytimeshealth 1/26/14