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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Through my dying day, and beyond: Gay Culverhouse Player Outreach Program

Her father was the founder of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers football team, and she herself later served as the company president. Somewhere along the line, Gay Culverhouse took note of the frequent long-term disabilities that NFL players suffer, and she took it to heart.

In October, she testified critically to Congress' Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives about the NFL’s lax policy toward concussions and overall player safety. She vowed publicly to set up an organization to seek out former players in need, arrange their doctor visits, and help complete their paperwork.

She delivered. The fledgling Gay Culverhouse Player Outreach Program first sent an advocate to help Jerry Eckwood, a popular running back for the Buccaneers from 1979 to 1981. Jerry, now 55 years old, is unable to go grocery shopping, handle his checkbook, function on his own, or often even to speak coherently. His doctor strongly suspects he has dementia, after Jerry’s multiple concussions as a football player.

Gay has worked quickly to build the nonprofit program, which is based in Tampa, Florida. "I have to be made obsolete. The NFL is hoping that I made a one-shot deal in Congress and now I’ll go away. I’m going to fund this through my dying day and beyond. This thing can't die when I die."

Gay's selflessness and drive are particularly laudable because she herself is terminally ill with myelofibrosis, a disorder of the bone marrow that causes severe anemia and kidney failure. Former players admire her toughness and compassion. Former All-Pro tight end Jimmie Giles said, "I've never heard of anybody in football stepping up to the plate like this. This lady, she's like Gandhi to us."

Read another NFL concussion story. Thanks to Alan Schwarz for the source story in the Jan. 22 issue of the New York Times.

Advice to health advocates: Live like Gay Culverhouse.

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