By Tony Grossi
Extra points …
Sad but true: Joe DeLamielleure was the first person I thought to call after the news that Junior Seau reportedly had shot himself to death on Wednesday.
Their NFL careers missed overlapping by five years. They will be teammates in the Pro Football Hall of Fame some day when Seau is eligible to be voted in.
Joe D. didn’t know Seau. I called him because he is one of the most outspoken advocates for retired NFL players.
“I’m sad but not surprised,” he said.
If he didn’t know Seau, how could he not be surprised about this tragic news?
“Most of the (retired) guys I talk to, a good portion, are depressed,” DeLamielleure said. “Everybody thinks that if you played pro football, you lived a charmed life. But a lot of guys I know are really, really hurting. That’s, what, six (former players) who killed themselves in the last six years?
“I never met him. I don’t know what happened with Junior Seau. He was a great player. Like everything, so what? Being a great player doesn’t mean you don’t have problems. I played with O.J. (Simpson).”
They didn’t know: DeLamielleure played for the Browns on their Kardiac Kids teams from 1980 through ’84. Before that, he was a member of the famed “Electric Company” offensive line that provided the juice to Simpson in Buffalo.
In January of this year, DeLamielleure joined two of the 67 concussion lawsuits claiming the NFL and helmet manufacturers concealed information about the long-term effects of concussions. A total of 1,680 former players are plaintiffs in the suits, and the number grows by the week.
Ongoing studies and research are establishing strong links between brain damage caused by concussions, which could lead to depression, early dementia, possibly suicide. Former Bears safety Dave Duerson killed himself last year and left a note donating his brain for head trauma research.
“I’m a freak,” said Joe D. “I played 13 years, never had a surgery. I weigh the same 256 pounds as the day I got drafted in 1973. Work out every day. But I’ve got issues. I lost 60 percent of hearing in my left ear. (Doctors) said it was caused by concussions. When I played, I didn’t know what a concussion was. They didn’t tell you if you had one.
“They banned the head slap. I wonder why. You walk around the rest of your life with a ringing in your ear. How do you get compensated for that? I do a lot of walking. The other day, a guy on a bike almost hit me. He got up off the ground and says, ‘What are you doing?’ I said what do you mean? He said, ‘I yelled to watch out.’ Didn’t hear him.
“People say you knew what you were getting into. The general public doesn’t understand. As long as they get their football. I never knew the risk of this. Did people know the risk of smoking back in the day? Did people know the risk of coal mining? But guess what, they got compensated for it. My dad worked in an auto plant. When you got hurt, they compensated you. The NFL doesn’t compensate you for it.
Where is this going?: DeLamielleure is not a bitter man. He is a concerned man. He is one of the loudest voices railing against the union he said deserted retired players and a league that he and his cohorts helped build into a gazillion-dollar industry.
“When I first asked a doctor what’s a concussion, he said, ‘Basically, when you see stars,’” Joe D. said. “Omigod, that’s every practice. That’s what nobody understands. We were the guinea pigs. We played on bad (artificial) turf. Bad helmets. Head slaps, chop blocks, blocking wedges. They don’t hit in practice now like when I played.”
DeLamielleure’s son, Todd, had a tryout with the Browns a few years ago. Now Todd is a firefighter in Charleston, S.C. DeLamielleure was babysitting his grandsons when I reached him.
“I won’t let my grandsons play football,” he said.
He doesn’t know if the concussion lawsuits will result in any compensation to the thousands of plaintiffs. He thinks now that the dangers are established, football players in the future will have to sign a waiver relieving leagues of liability for future brain issues. “Like the warning label on cigarettes now,” he said.
No, DeLamielleure is not surprised that a future Hall of Famer football player like Seau, only 43 years old, could be led to do what he did.
“Here’s the thing, you don’t go telling people about (depression),” he said. “What if you do have a job? You tell them you’re depressed? And, what, you’re out of a job? Who goes and tells people this? Who tells people I checked the wrong box and lost all my pension?”
Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com.
He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 44 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi
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