Following the announcement of a settlement between the NFL and more than 4,500 former players, Bill Littlefield caught up with one of the plaintiffs: former NFL quarterback Walter “Bubby” Brister. In 14 NFL seasons with the Steelers, Eagles, Jets, Broncos and Vikings, Brister estimates he suffered more than 20 concussions. But he also says he has no regrets.
BL: What was your reaction to the settlement?WB: I was happy probably like most of the rest of the guys. First and foremost the guys before us and the guys that need care right now – I mean I know I’m slipping a little bit – but the main thing is for the guys who need it ASAP, and I was excited to hear [about the settlement] for them because there are a lot of guys out there that are hurting and need [help] right now.
BL: Does it bother you that the agreement contains language that essentially absolves the NFL from blame for harm the players have suffered?
WB: No. You know, you’re going to have to give and take with stuff like that as you go through arbitration. So for you to get everything and for them to admit everything would be far-fetched. You know, the way it came out, I think both sides are probably happy about it. And that’s the way it should be. It shouldn’t be all or nothing. If you can move forward and then start helping people instead of keeping on dragging it through the court system, and I sort of agree with what happened.
BL: I agree with you 100 percent that it’s important to get the process under way as quickly as possible and court delays would be awful, but have you any concern that the money won’t be adequate given that the NFL is a $9 to $10-billion-a-year industry?
WB: Well, the way I read it, and I’m actually on the road, I’ve been travelling a lot, is, you know, they’re going to make considerations, and they’re going to put money where it can grow. And you really can’t tell about the future, so what we have in place for now is better than what we had. At least we have something in place.
BL: Do you know how many concussions you had as a player?
WB: You know, I tell people it was probably 20-plus. And you start looking back, I played in 15 years and preseason games. And the way the artificial turf was back then, I mean you might get a couple concussions a game. Now they might not be where you’re knocked out all the way. If you’re seeing stars and people are saying, “Oh, that’s nothing; you got dinged.” Those are concussions, and the ways the turf was back then you got more when your head hit the ground than when somebody hit you. And 20 – that’s one on the year on average – that’s nothing. So it was probably way more than that.
And some of them were really bad, and some of them were just where you had a bad headache and you saw stars and you kept playing. That was the nature of the beast back then. We didn’t really know then what we know now. I know several of the hits I took I probably shouldn’t have played again, or, you know, even practiced the next week. They didn’t even really document a lot of them back then.
BL: Do you have a sense that early Alzheimer’s or dementia is something you are going to experience? When you say you’re slipping, is that what you have in mind?
WB: I hope not. But you know my dad has it right now, and he played junior high, high school and college football, so I don’t know that’s 100 percent the reason why, but I had way more concussions than him and played way longer. I did an insurance test the other day, and they gave me 10 words and then they asked me a question in between and then they asked me to repeat those 10 words, and I got five.
You know I never had the test before I had brain injuries or concussions, but you know I did it with my children and they got eight or nine. That’s what I mean by slipping. You know I’ve been forgetting stuff. My short-term memory’s slipping. But I’m sure that people that have played 15 years and got a lot of concussions are pretty much in the same boat.
BL: Do you have any regrets?
WB: No, I don’t. I signed up for it. I love the game. It helped change my life. We have a better life now. You know my kids have a better life. I wish I would have known some things, and I wish [the NFL] would have shared [anything they knew]. … But you know what, that’s the way it was in the ‘80s and early ‘90s, and I signed up for it, and no, I do not have any regrets.