But Bass, 67, considers himself fortunate. He had three, four, maybe more concussions. A study he participated in two years ago found an unspecified “indication of deterioration.” He mentions former players who are in assisted-living homes or worse. He doesn’t feel like he’s in bad shape. Instead, he feels used.
A meager pension. No compensation for highlight films of his play on Yepremian. Head injuries take his frustration further. His voice rises as he mentions Dr. Ira Casson, the neurologist dubbed “Dr. No” who worked for the NFL. Casson told HBO’s Real Sports there wasn’t a link between head trauma and long-term brain problems in a 2007 interview.
“Is there any evidence, as far as you’re concerned, that links multiple head injuries among pro football players with depression?” Bernard Goldberg, the interviewer, asked.
“No,” Casson said.
“Early onset of Alzheimer’s?”
“Is there any evidence as of today that links multiple head injuries with any long-term problem like that?”
“In NFL players? No.”
In written testimony before the House Judiciary Committee in 2010, Casson, who resigned as co-chairman of the NFL’s committee on brain injuries in 2009, accused the media of distorting his position but added: “There is not enough valid, reliable or objective scientific evidence at present to determine whether or not repeat head impacts in professional football result in long term brain damage.” Casson’s name is splashed throughout the lawsuits.
“I really hate deceit,” said Bass, who provides high-end loans for entrepreneurs. “These things would not have materialized if the owners, the NFL had treated players with just a little bit of respect, had given us just a little dignity as we move from playing football into a normal, regular life which after playing football, is never going to be normal or regular.”
Bass remembers being taught to aim his forehead at what he wanted to hit. Repeated hits can damage the brain’s frontal lobe, according to Benson, causing depression, anxiety, impulsivity and easy anger. But subconcussive hits that don’t result in a clinical concussion, such as the routine banging of an offensive lineman’s head into a defender’s chest, can be more dangerous over the long term, Benson said.
Eight surgeries? Part of the game to Bass. But the suicides, the NFL’s response, the creeping uncertainty about a concussion-clouded future bothers him.
“We were not educated as to the ramifications of how things would be 20, 30 years later,” Bass said. “None of us really want to hurt the NFL. But they’ve kind of turned their backs on us.”