After four years at Nebraska, defensive end Jim Skow played 83 games in the NFL: 55 for the Bengals, 12 for Tampa Bay, 11 for the Seahawks and, in 1992, his final year, four for the Rams and one for the Chargers. He recorded 24 sacks in his professional career and started in Super Bowl XXIII for Cincinnati. Skow now works as a lawyer in Daytona Beach, Florida. He is one of the more than 4,500 former NFL players who filed suit against the league over concussions and other head injuries.
That's the funny thing about how class actions work. Basically, if you don't have everybody all in and you have some people that opt out, like they do have, they will have a problem because then, if the judge looks at it and says, "There's too many people that have opted out. It's not a true class action," or "We'll go ahead and settle for these people," you get the defendant that actually wants to settle all the claims right then and there, and they say, "Wait a minute. These people are opting out. I want the whole class in here. This is what I proposed," and it blows the whole deal up. If too many people are opting out, you have a real problem.
I've actually worked on class action lawsuits that were going before I ever got out of law school [laughs], and they're still going now. They last for a long time.
If you don't put yourself into the class action lawsuit you can fall by the wayside in the sense that you're going to be swept up in it anyway, so you want to have a list of what your damages are so you get a better settlement. It's just to protect your rights.
I got to talking to my wife about forgetting things and things like that. I also have tinnitus, which is ringing in the ears. I would assume that came from that [football] as well. I do forget stuff, more than my friends who are 50, but I just kind of chalk that up to, I guess, too many blows to the head. I can't figure that it would be anything else. I mean, some people age better than others. And who knows where your neurological condition came from. I have a friend of mine whose wife had early onset Alzheimer's. I think she was 53 or 54 when it came on, and she's now in a nursing home at 59. She didn't play football. But, that being said, the most likely candidate is playing football.
Your body's going to break down, so it's what happened with Mike Webster, where basically his whole life went down the tubes. That's what I worry about, actually becoming irrelevant because you're basically a vegetable sitting in the corner.
I remember taking a deposition of a neurologist in Jacksonville, and it had to do with an injury at Home Depot. And he was explaining what they call coup and contracoup injuries. Basically what happens is when you hit your head on something, the back part of your brain is trying to catch up to the front part of your brain, and that's what causes the damage. So I'm going to go ahead and say that for every play that you're on, you're probably causing a little bit of damage. What is it they used to say? 72 car wrecks a day.
I remember playing in Chicago, down on the goal line. It was cold and I had to shoot an A-gap, which is right between the center and the guard. And you had to stay real low. Essentially you're down on all fours. You're just shooting the gap. And I remember the outside guard pulled, and when he pulled he actually dinged my head with his knee. It was pretty hard [laughs]. I remember standing on the sideline and the thought that came to my head: "The kid that sat next to me in first grade's name was Paul Brown." I had never remembered that, ever. Never [laughs]. And all of a sudden it came to me. I'm like, "Yeah, that hit didn't do me any good."
There are some talking heads out there that said, "Boy, the NFL got off easy." And it appears that they did. They certainly don't want to have any discovery, because once you start the litigation and you start the discovery, you know, the discovery is pretty all-encompassing. There's a lot of things out there that are kind of shady when it comes to the NFL, and so I'm sure they don't want to have that out there [laughs]. They deny admitting any sort of liability or fault.
I think there's a dichotomy here. Public opinion can be swayed, but you have a definite die-hard group of people who want these retired players to go away and they want to watch their football on Sunday. They really don't want to know about this. They don't want to know about the older players that have these neurological problems, or even some of the younger players. They don't want to know about it. They'd really like to have these guys go away. So public opinion does matter. As a matter of fact, public opinion really matters to the NFL. They have this public relations machine on all the time. They do it better than NASCAR. When you talk about public relations, NASCAR's really on the money. I mean, they really control the public opinion. And the NFL is the only industry I know that does it better than that.
If you want to be able to keep watching, you've got to basically shut your mind off to some of these players that have had these really catastrophic injuries. In order for me to get through my day, I have to do the same thing that the NFL fans do: I have to put that bad case scenario in the back of my head and not think about it. Otherwise, you'll be in fear for the rest of your life, and I don't want to do that.
Knowing what you know now, if you could do it over again, would you still play football?
I don't know. I had a wonderful time. I really did. I got to meet a lot of different people that I never would have met, being a young kid from Nebraska. And it's gotten me to where I am. It's kind of like somebody asked me years ago—I went to Catholic school, grade school and high school—he said, "What was that like?" And I said, "I don't know any different." I really didn't know any different. And so I don't know what my life would be.
Rob Trucks was last seen on Deadspin interviewing former athletes about the end of their careers. His oral histories with 49-year-old Americans can be found at McSweeney's, and hislatest book is on Fleetwood Mac's Tusk album.
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