MIAMI (CBSMiami) – “You start having that fear yourself. One day am I going to wake up and not know who my kid is? Not knowing who my wife is. Not know who I am? Am I going to think I am 20-something years old again and I am 55, 60 years old?”
At 41 years old, they are questions former Miami Dolphin Shawn Wooden asks himself over and over again.
A married father of three, and a successful financial planner based in Miramar, he still revels in memories of the game and the team he loved. His Miami Dolphins’ helmet sits atop a bookshelf in his office.
“You would feel honored to come out of that tunnel and have those 72,000 fans just cheering for you,” remembering back to the day.
But just a decade after taking off that uniform, his days and nights are often focused on the possibility of paying a price for repeated head trauma – and the concussions he and fellow footballers, like Kevin Turner who played or the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles, suffered on the field.
Wooden and Turner are lead players in a settlement accepted in a class action lawsuit filed against the NFL.
Wooden believes the settlement addresses the needs of retired players who have or may get dementia, Alzheimer’s, Lou Gehrig’s Disease, which Turner suffers from, and other severe illnesses – all allegedly linked to repeated head trauma.
Meeting with CBS4 Chief Investigative Reporter Michele Gillen she asked Wooden if he now suffers from headaches.
“Yes.” he replied. And sleepless nights too.
Wooden represents members of the class action who are healthy today but who might be at higher risk.
The reason? He says he remembers suffering concussions on the field.
“I remember getting dinged. I remember losing some time. Watching film on that next Monday and saying when did that play happen?”
Experiences he would just have no memory of.
“Literally could not remember it. I remember one point in time being hit so hard, they brought out the smelling salts out to me to try to get my senses. And put them in my mouth thinking that it was a pill. And throwing up instantly. Those are the things that I do remember,” he said.
Gillen asked, “When you say the word Ding. Ding sounds so innocent?”
“Yes, that’s what we used to call it” Wooden responded.
“The science wasn’t there. That concussions, getting your bell rung, could have a long term effect,” he added.
Potential damaging effects are now known. And that’s why the settlement could include a billion dollars or more for some retirees afflicted with certain illnesses and provide dollars for testing.
“I want to be tested. I want to do the baseline testing. I believe all 18,000 guys should get tested as soon as possible,” said Wooden
Wooden says he is haunted by afflicted players – like Kevin Turner for whom early testing is too late. He has spent time with Turner and is awed by his determination and courage.
“You see a trapped soul. It is sad to see these strong men… everybody says gladiators….trapped in their own a body that’s a haunting feeling,” stresses Wooden.
But not all players or their families are in favor. A handful continue to raise objections. In fact, lawyers filed appeals this week, trying to overturn it.
“I would say that our appeal is about fundamental fairness. This settlement is a landmark settlement in many ways. It is a statement about the NFL’s culpability for traumatic head injuries for the players who played the game,” says Jared Beck who represents the family of former player ‘Cookie’ Gilcrest. He long suffered from CTE – Cerebral Traumatic Encephalopathy. A severe injury to the brain usually following a violent jolt.
Beck, for starters, argues the settlement is too restrictive – that potentially many players with CTE will be excluded from benefits even though scientific research indicates the condition is directly linked to head trauma.
“It is clear to us that the trial court did not exercise its responsibility to weigh all the scientific opinions and evidence. It did not look in a serious way at the science.” says Beck.
Gilcrest was at stage 4 CTE when he passed away at age 71. CTE is diagnosed after death when the brain is studied. Beck says only families of players who die before the settlement is signed will get benefits.
As to when the NFL first became aware of the dangers of concussions, the incidence of risk, an insider’s view may never emerge.
“There was not a shred of discovery taken. Not a single deposition taken we think in our view that is an absolute travesty of justice,” argues Beck.
Wooden, who has two young boys who love the football field, believes change is trickling down. More emphasis on monitoring at all levels of the game.
Gillen asked, “Do you ever take pause about saying that I don’t want my two boys to play football?”
“It’s a conversation that we had as a family. It’s a decision we made in the family. There was some hesitation about them playing…making sure they play the right way….. I go to all my kids’ games. So it comes down to monitoring your kid,” says Wooden.
And now, anxiously monitoring his own health.
“It is a very haunting feeling. A very nervous feeling as an individual being only 41 years old knowing that that could be a possibility,” he said.
CBS4 News reached out for comment from legal representatives of the NFL and awaits their response.
For more information on these debilitating brain injuries in athletes and how you can support the cause, you can visit The Kevin Turner Foundation website.