Concussions and the NFL
San Francisco 49ers' quarterback Steve Young lays motionless on field after suffering a concussion in the second quarter of the 49ers' game against the Arizona Cardinals Monday Sept. 27, 1999 in Tempe, Arizona. (AP Photo/Scott Troyanos)

San Francisco 49ers' quarterback Steve Young lays motionless on field after suffering a concussion in the game against the Arizona Cardinals on Sept. 27, 1999, in Tempe, Arizona. (AP)

When the lights are up and the crowd is roaring, it’s all glorious mayhem in the National Football League. The power, the plays, the crunching hits and tackles.

But when the lights go down, the crowds go home, and careers end, it’s often NFL wives left to pick up the battered pieces.

The toughest wounds to deal with: brain damage from repeated poundings and concussion on the football field. Retired players dealing with depression, memory loss, dementia. Big men reduced to helplessness.

This hour, On Point: NFL wives on the long trail of concussion on the field.

You can join the conversation. What do you think when you hear the crack of helmets on the football field? What about the brains, the men inside those helmets — and their wives?


Joining us from New York is Alan Schwarz, staff sports writer for The New York Times. His 2007 series on concussions and other brain injuries suffered by NFL players and other athletes was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.  His most recent piece, published last week, is “N.F.L. Meeting Irks Wives of Ill Retirees.”

Joining us from Baltimore is Dr. Eleanor Perfetto, wife of Ralph Wenzel, who played guard for the Pittsburgh Steelers and San Diego Chargers from 1966 to 1973. He suffers from dementia and now lives in an assisted-living facility. She is a senior director in health policy issues at Pfizer.

Also with us from Baltimore is Sylvia Mackey, wife of Pro Football Hall-of-Famer John Mackey, who played for the Baltimore Colts and San Diego Chargers from 1963-1972. He now suffers from fronto-temporal dementia and has been at an assisted-living facility since September. She was a leading figure in the development of the NFL’s “88 Plan,” named after John Mackey’s jersey number, which provides money for the care and treatment of former players with dementia.

From Washington, D.C., we’re joined by Harold Henderson, executive vice president for labor relations for the NFL and chairman of the NFL Management Council Executive Committee. He helped develop the NFL’s 88 Plan.

And in our studio we’re joined by Dr. Robert Stern, associate professor of neurology at the Boston University School of Medicine and co-director of BU’s Alzheimer’s Disease clinical and research program. He is also co-director of BU’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy. This September, 16 pro athletes, including six former NFL players, agreed to donate their brains to the center for study after their deaths.

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