As Bills fans, most of us have heard about Joe DeLamielleure even though not all of us have seen him play. He was a bit before my time but I’ve always heard how he was a huge part of the Electric Company that blocked for The Juice. Of course our hero OJ has fallen in stature since those days, but Joe D surely hasn’t.
In fact, quite the opposite. Joe DeLamielleure has been fighting for pension increases for players. He’s been a harsh critic of how the NFL handled players before the collective bargaining agreement and free agency in the mid-90’s. He says that some players that retired before 1994 get under $1,000 a month to live on. He himself gets about $2,100 before taxes – and that’s for a guy who played 13 years and is in the Hall of Fame.
But now Big Joe D is fighting for player safety and is trying to shed light on the issue of concussions. Hit that link for a great yet sobering read. To pick out some parts, Joe says that one time he got hit so hard he thought he was working in his Dad’s bar because the smelling salts reminded him of the ammonia used to clean the bar. But of course he went right back in the game.
Those guys were TOUGH.
Repeated collisions over the years left two permanent divots in his forehead from the bolts in his helmet. “I bled every game for two years,” he says. “Some of the football card [photos] I wore a bandana” to hide the wounds.
(I will never complain about my job again.)
He’s lost 60 percent of the hearing in his left ear, a result of opposing linemen, most of them right-handed, slapping his helmet.
But perhaps worst of all is the short-term memory loss and anger problems:
I lose my wallet three or four times a day. I talk extremely fast, which I never did. Then you get a short fuse. Little things [set] you off. And it’s constant. I was never that impulsive.
Joe is very active in promoting these issues. To me he’s a real hero for the work he does. On his kids playing football he has this to say:
I loved playing. I was addicted to it. Now I won’t let my grandchildren play it. I have five grandsons, and I tell my daughters, ‘Don’t even think about it. Over my dead body those kids will play football until they clean it up.’
Joe D isn’t the only former Buffalo Bill to try to make the NFL a safer game. Cornelius Bennett is the chairman of the NFLPA Former Players Board of Directors and he too is fighting for player pensions and better safety. This article at al.com talks about what Bennett is doing as well as how Mark Kelso might have been ahead of his time.
For the younger Bills fans out there, Mark Kelso was a free safety who wore a double-layered helmet that looked oddly way too big for him. He’d had a concussion or two and (smartly) wanted to make sure he didn’t have another. (For a little guy he really got into some collisions.) He was laughed at by many and called “The Great Gazoo” – but he didn’t suffer another concussion.
Getting back to “The Biscuit”, a.k.a. Cornelius Bennet, he had this to say:
We know the bubble helmets protect the head. But no matter what kind of helmet you have, there’s no way to protect the brain if you take the wrong kind of hit. A Kevlar helmet won’t stop brain trauma with the wrong kind of hit. But we’re making changes on a daily basis. Football is a great game, and we’ll make it safer.”
It’s a sad thing that our entertainment can lead to permanent damage to someone to the point where they even want to kill themselves (i.e. Junior Seau). Kudos to these former and current heroes of ours for the work they do and hopefully it will lead to fewer and fewer concussions.