View Full Version : Gorman: Focusing on the brains in big game

02-07-2010, 09:44 AM
Gorman: Focusing on the brains in big game

By Kevin Gorman
Sunday, February 7, 2010

Surprisingly, the son of Steelers Hall of Fame center Mike Webster doesn't hate football, even though his father's final years were spent in a state of dementia, depression and dysfunction as a result of football-related brain trauma.

Garrett Webster was at Super Bowl XLIV festivities for the announcement that the Brain Injury Research Institute at West Virginia University led by Drs. Julian Bailes and Bennet Omalu and Wheeling attorney Bob Fitzsimmons has partnered with the Gridiron Greats Assistance Fund.

"I love football and enjoy a big hit as much as anybody," said Garrett, a 25-year-old administrator/player liaison for BIRI. "We're not trying to take that out of the game. We don't want to change the game. We don't want to eliminate football. Everyone in the group is a football fan. We just want it to be, if something happens, this is how you're treated. And, God forbid, if your career ends on a concussion, this is how you're going to be taken care of."

Since his family successfully sued the NFL and was awarded $1.18 million in disability benefits in April 2005, Garrett has turned feelings of bitterness and betrayal into a position as an outspoken advocate for families of former NFL players experiencing brain injuries. He shares stories of dealing with the symptoms and the sense of shame that accompanies them.

"Who had more experience living with what these players are going through than me? I don't have any medical experience, but I can feel for them and relate to what they're going through," said Garrett, who lives in Moon Township. "It's a different experience for everybody. Some have violent outbursts, some are scatterbrained, some can't concentrate. Dad was a little bit of all of those things. There's always something I can relate to or recognize. Sometimes, they just need to hear a voice that can understand them and be a support system for. That's what I try to do."

Garrett Webster saw not the Iron Mike that played 17 seasons in the NFL and won four Super Bowl rings with the Steelers, but a man who struggled to function in society and was too proud to expose himself and ask for help before his death at age 50 in September 2002.

"I'd go to bed every night thinking about killing myself or leaving my dad because I didn't want to deal with it," Garrett said. "I just wanted to play football or basketball, not worry about my dad's medications or whether we were going to be evicted from our apartment."

Which is why Garrett was disappointed that Steelers receiver Hines Ward publicly questioned the severity of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's concussion prior to the Baltimore Ravens game this past season.

"If there's anybody who should understand the severity of head injuries, it should be Steelers players," Garrett said. "If there's one place Mike Webster should be revered, it's Pittsburgh. They know what happened to him is a very, very sad story. That was a disappointing thing because it was a head injury. It could possibly have severe consequences down the road."

What bothers Garrett is not watching football but hearing television announcers glorify the violence of the game and seeing incessant replays of vicious helmet-to-helmet hits. What bothers him is that the repercussions of such plays might not be felt for years to come, but that they can have long-lasting effects for those on the receiving end and their families.

"I'd rather have my dad alive and him be considered a pansy than to have him dead and considered an Iron Man," Webster said. "I understand announcers would rather hype it up when there's a big hit ... but they don't have to replay it 15 times and talk about what a bad-ass someone is."

That's something to think about tonight while watching the New Orleans Saints play the Indianapolis Colts, as Garrett Webster knows he could someday be counseling the family on the receiving end of the blow.

Kevin Gorman can be reached at kgorman@tribweb.com or 412-320-7812.

urgle burgle
02-07-2010, 09:49 AM
ESPN just showed a dealio on this....it was pretty good. i think the number of past and present players signed up to give their brains to science is 65. didnt see any Steelers on the list, course ESPN didnt show the whole list, but you figure if some of our boys were on it, that would be pertinent info.

02-09-2010, 08:04 PM
That was a very good read and thanks for posting it Mesa. It's great to see things like this to help players with brain injuries. And it's a damn shame the NFL isn't doing more about this. They should be at the forefront for these types of projects. A multi-billion dollar industry and they can barely help past players with major health issues.