Three weeks ago, Mark Rypien admitted something was wrong.
At a fundraising dinner for his charitable foundation, Rypien’s college roommate from Washington State University, John Marshall, recalled when Rypien summoned a medevac helicopter after another ex-roommate, Jeff Loomis, suffered a minor stroke. The call saved Loomis’ life.
Rypien had no memory of the incident.
The daily memory lapses Rypien, 49, attributed to advancing age suddenly looked different. So did the four or five concussions the ex-Washington Redskins quarterback was diagnosed with during his 11-year NFL career.
That’s how Rypien became the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit filed Friday by 126 ex-players against the NFL over head injuries.
“It got to a point where it made me concerned and now I’m thinking, ‘Gosh, what do the next 10 years look like?’” Rypien said in a phone interview Wednesday. “Then you become a little bit scared.”
In addition to the four or five concussions he was diagnosed with during his career, Rypien estimated 15 to 20 other times he was “not in my right state” after hits.
Simple tasks, like carrying on conversations with family members, slowly became more difficult.
“They’re looking out of the corner of their eye like, ‘You didn’t remember what you just got done saying?’” Rypien said. “You’re forgetting things from yesterday and from your past.”
Even studying football when he volunteers with Shadle Park High’s team in Spokane, Wash., isn’t the same for the man who was Super Bowl XXVI’s most valuable player. The changes alarmed him.
“I was kind of a brainiac when it came to the game,” Rypien said. “The X’s and O’s came easily to me. I really have to struggle now. … It seems like I’m learning the game again which once came so easily.”
During a 25-minute conversation Wednesday, Rypien paused in mid-sentence trying to recall the year he absorbed a dizzying hit against the Minnesota Vikings. He remembered other details from the game, which was played in October 1992. But the year was like a black hole.
Adding to Rypien’s concern was last year’s suicide of Rick Rypien, his cousin who suffered concussions as an NHL enforcer.
So, Rypien filled out a survey on head injuries from the NFL Alumni Association two weeks ago and was connected with Craig Mitnick, co-counsel with Gene Locks in the suit.
Rypien still loves football. He would still play again knowing the risks. But he wished the NFL was more forthcoming about the long-term consequences of head injuries. He wants the game to be safer, where health matters more than wins.
“We need to take care of our people,” Rypien said, “not look after how much money we’re going to make based on putting people out there in very precarious, scary positions and really engaging them in a life-threatening practice.”
Fourteen other ex-Redskins are also part of the lawsuit, one of dozens filed against the NFL over head injuries. Mitnick’s group represents over 550 ex-players who have sued the NFL.
“We probably put up a good front,” Rypien said. “We want to make it look like things are OK. But each one of those individuals, like myself, has got issues going on and things that are alarming.
“I worry about 10 years from now.”