Ex-FB: Medical care trumps lawsuits

Updated: May 13, 2012, 4:44 PM ET
By Tim MacMahon | ESPNDallas.com

FRISCO, Texas -- Former Dallas Cowboys fullback Daryl Johnston expressed concern that the concussion-related lawsuits involving hundreds of former NFL players could cloud what he considers the more important issue -- being proactive in medical care for retired players.

Johnston, a Fox analyst, is not involved in the lawsuits and said he has not had any post-career concussion-related issues despite being involved in hundreds of head-first collisions while opening holes for all-time leading rusher Emmitt Smith.

Johnston We can't continue to lose guys in their 40s and 50s. There's warning signs out there. We've got to stay on top of this. We've got to do a better job of taking care of each other.

-- Daryl Johnston

"I understand that there are some guys that are in some tough shape right now," said Johnston on Friday night at Smith's charity dinner, which doubled as a reunion for the 1992 Cowboys' Super Bowl championship team. "We do need to definitely figure out a way that they're having the quality of life that they deserve. That's the most important thing.

"I don't want that to be lost during the course of this lawsuit, because these are class-action lawsuits based by the guy who did asbestos and based by the guys that did tobacco. They're going to get a lot of money if they win these lawsuits. They have other reasons to be in this. I hope some of them have genuine concern for the players that they're representing."

Johnston, known as "Moose," urged retired NFL players to get thorough neurological exams. He has done so at the Center of Brain Health in Dallas and compared the exams to colonoscopies, saying ex-football players should get the diagnostic testing done on a regular basis.

Johnston, whose 11-year career was shortened because of neck injuries, estimated that 40 former NFL players have been evaluated at the Center of Brain Health. He was optimistic that dozens more would follow.

"I'm trying to get all the retired guys to get in here, establish a baseline so we can start monitoring," Johnston said. "So, if there is a slip, we can get on it and we can start helping. There's things that you can do right now. We've learned a lot from the (Department of Defense) about these soldiers who have had major traumatic brain injuries and yet have been able to regain tremendous amount of functionality back. I'm talking about massive head injuries. The brain is able to reconnect itself.

"This group here in Dallas is doing a great job. They've got great stuff. I've got some guys from out of town coming in now. I'm happy about that. The word is getting out and I've got people calling me about it."

Johnston said NFL players always have been aware of "the dangers when we decided to play this game." He mentioned a recent conversation with ex-teammate Chad Hennings, a former Air Force pilot who used the analogy of not needing to be warned that he could be shot down or have to eject when he got in the cockpit of a fighter jet.

However, Johnston wants proactive steps to be taken to try to prevent cases such as the suicides of Dave Duerson and Junior Seau in which chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative disease caused by multiple concussions, could have been a factor.

"We can't continue to lose guys in their 40s and 50s," Johnston said. "There's warning signs out there. We've got to stay on top of this. We've got to do a better job of taking care of each other. In our communities, when you're around the retired guys, if you see any issues, we've got to have places to get them to. There's got to be more information in our retired community about where to help these guys, where to get them.

"These are the guys who built the game. These are the reasons that these guys are making $20 million per season now. We've got to make sure that they're taken care of. I understand why they've joined these lawsuits. I absolutely do, but I don't want them to be forgotten about. There's things that we could be doing to help them right now. Are we doing that?"

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