At Hilton Head Celebrity Golf Tournament, NFL greats weigh in on concussions

sfastenau@beaufortgazette.comSeptember 2, 2013 

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Former New York Giants cornerback Mark Collins watches his shot from the No. 17 tee Sunday afternoon during the final day of the Hilton Head Island Celebrity Golf Tournament at Harbour Town Golf Links in Sea Pines.

SARAH WELLIVER — Sarah Welliver Buy Photo

Mark Collins suffered four concussions during his 12 years in the National Football League.

That is, four that were diagnosed. Since his final season in 1998, Collins said he has had spells of dizzyness and headaches.

He joined the more than 4,500 former players who sued the NFL, accusing the league of witholding information on the dangers of head trauma.

On Sunday, playing in his third Hilton Head Celebrity Golf Tournament at Harbour Town Golf Links, Collins said the proposed $765 million settlement announced last week addresses immediate needs but would not close the discussion. As part of the settlement, the NFL does not admit guilt and avoids a discovery process that would have included depositions of league officials about their knowledge of the risks.

"I wanted more information -- what did the league know when I played the game?" said Collins, who won two Super Bowls as a defensive back with the New York Giants from 1986-1993.

"Because we were told you'll walk away from this game with busted knees, broken bones, but never mentioned about the helmet and the head. We were always told the helmet will protect you. We still don't know if that is true or not."

The proposed settlement will pay half of the money over the next three years and the remaining balance over the next 17 years.

Collins said the money would help former players with dementia and other disorders who have mounting medical bills. But he said attorneys for the plaintiffs asked for $2 billion this summer -- reported Saturday by ESPN -- and that the settlement falls short in the long run.

"Just because you settle a potential lawsuit doesn't mean it's over, just because you throw money at it," Collins said. "It's still going to be around. Not just for the older players now, like myself, but the players who are playing now and the high school and college kids now. That will always be there."

Former San Francisio 49ers safety Dwight Hicks, playing a few groups behind Collins at Harbour Town on Sunday, said he opted not to join the lawsuit. He said he wants to be part of a solution to prevent brain injuries and that he has a patent with a group seeking funding to create new helmet technology.

Hicks remembers a game with the New England Patriots in the early 1980s. He glanced at the scoreboard during the first quarter, noting the 49ers' early lead. The next time he looked up, the lead had grown and the game was in the fourth quarter. Hicks remembered nothing in between.

He asked 49ers' defensive backs coach Ray Rhodes how he had played, whether he had made sound defensive calls at free safety. Hicks was diagnosed with a mild concussion.

"You stop counting," Hicks said. "They say every time you see daylight, it's a concussion. I used to think I wasn't playing hard enough when I didn't get one of those."

Hicks said his group has spoken with Nike about possible funding for the new helmets and that other investors have shown interest. A business plan is in the early stages.

"I have been very fortunate, but a lot of guys have not," said Hicks, who won two Super Bowls in San Francisco and turned to acting in retirement. "You're either part of the problem or the solution. And I'd rather forego the little money that the NFL is going to give us compared to doing something that will benefit everybody."

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