HBO Show To Shed Light On Long-Lasting NFL Injuries

By Dusty Saunders
Updated: May 14, 2007

DENVER — Ted Johnson has a vacant look in his eyes as he stares into the camera.

The former University of Colorado and New England Patriots linebacker, attired in a dark suit, has “cleaned up” for his HBO interview with Bernard Goldberg after spending the previous 11 days in a darkened apartment.

“I don’t shave . . . don’t shower . . . don’t brush my teeth . . . you can’t care,” Johnson says in a negative, disheartened tone.

Now living in a shadowy, mixed-up world, Johnson is one of several former NFL players who have been victims of numerous helmet-crushing hits and are suffering from debilitating memory loss, confusion, dementia and even suicidal depression.

Their stories, to be told this week on HBO’s Emmy-winning Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel should be a wake-up call to the NFL, which, according to HBO, hasn’t paid much attention to the growing problem.

But based on Goldberg’s interview with Dr. Ian Casson, a spokesman-physician for the NFL, little attention will be paid in the future.

Casson tells Goldberg there’s “no clear evidence” coaches, doctors and trainers are endangering the lives of players by allowing them to play after they have suffered what could have been severe head injuries.

In a smirking tone, Casson says such accusations are “overblown.”

Tell that to Johnson, who recalls suffering a major concussion in a Patriots-Giants preseason game in August 2002. Four days later, coaches insisted he return to hard-knocking contact, where he suffered another concussion.

During the next several seasons, Johnson was cleared for playing by coaches, trainers and doctors. Now he exists in a shadow world, telling Goldberg he’s addicted to heavy medication he’s forced to take to survive.

But at least Johnson is a survivor — so far.

Andre Waters, former “hard- hitting” defensive back with the Philadelphia Eagles, committed suicide in November. Doctors and pathologists agreed: The brain of the 44-year-old Waters was muddled because of too many hits on NFL fields.

NFL fans can recall tight end John Mackey, one of the league’s all-time best. It’s sad to watch Mackey, in hesitant style, trying to answer Goldberg’s simple, direct questions.

Mackey has a form of dementia that has removed nearly all of his short-term memory.

The finger-pointing at the lax NFL policies regarding head injuries is done by several noted physicians and Harvard-educated medical consultant Chris Nowinski, who survived pro wrestling before getting involved in sports medicine.

Bennet Omalu, a Pittsburgh- area doctor, outlines specifically how Waters’ suicide-by gunshot death was the direct result of head injures suffered in the NFL.

Also on Real Sports is a report on the proliferation of performance-enhancing drugs used in big-money horse racing and a profile of boxer Johnny Tapia.

But “Head On,” the NFL report, is the key story. The revelations surrounding the death of Waters and the problems facing Mackey, Johnson and other former players aren’t new.

But Real Sports puts them into a concise focus.

So why is the NFL seemingly unconcerned with an obvious problem?

Johnson’s succinct answer: “Money, my man. It’s just about making money.”

NOTE: HBO’s “Real Sports” can be seen regularly on Monday evenings at 8 pm ET. For more information and additional airings, log on to .