Former Packer Fights for Medical Benefits
Photo: Video by nbc26.com
CREATED Jun. 27, 2013
Walk away from the game of pro football these days and you leave in pretty good financial shape with severance, a pension and insurance. Not the case for the guys of yesteryear, guys who often limped away from the game and are still paying the price.
It was a classic era of pro football and no team personified the glory of the game like Lombardi's Packers. But when the lights dimmed, real life began. The only problem, the accumulated injuries didn't fade away once you turned in your jersey.
John Maino asks, "Did they ever diagnose concussions for you guys?"
"Sure they did," said former Packers tight end, Gary Knafelc. "They walked in and said, 'How many fingers?' I didn't mind the fingers but they said, 'Which hand?'"
Knafelc had a solid 10 year NFL career followed by a successful business career. These days, he's fighting to help those who are struggling physically.
"Like Willie Wood. He's had trouble, but our group has helped him tremendously. Bart Starr and those guys have done a fantastic job to help Willie Wood and people like that."
Knafelc and his fellow alums have lobbied the NFL and Players Association for help. He says the results have been disappointing.
"We don't have a voice, and I really believe the reason that we don't have a voice is that they're hoping that if we keep dying off at the rate we are, we'll be all dead and they won't have to worry about anything."
Maino says, "And you're not kidding when you say that."
"No, I'm not kidding at all. No, I'm very serious about that."
Knafelc says there's a simple solution.
"The NFL Players Association has to step up and protect us, and they don't do that. All they care about is the current players and the guys that played after 1970. The ones that played prior to that, they've kind of just forgotten entirely."
As for injuries which have gotten worse with age?
"They say it happened too long ago. They don't have enough records to justify helping you out at that time. In fact, they even come to the point of ,' How do we even know that injury was something you did playing football? It was not something you did later on?'"
These are players from an era where injuries were often ignored or even hidden.
Gary points to his thumb and says, "I broke this in 1959. This and 3 fingers. I went to my own personal doctor, because I was afraid to see what would happen. He said that we would have to cast it and I said, 'No we can't put a cast on it, because I won't be able to play.' So I taped myself and played the whole year."
The league certainly isn't hurting for cash which makes their reluctance to help a head scratcher.
"I can't understand it. It's not the fact that we started the game, but we sure did add to the game."
Knafelc admits they weren't forced to play the game, and despite the problems associated with it, they have no regrets about their days between the lines.
"As dumb as I am, I would do it again for the same money if I could."