WASHINGTON (Reuters) - During a 13-year NFL career, offensive tackle Joe DeLamielleure provided the resistance that allowed great running backs like O.J. Simpson to glide toward the end zone.
Today at 63, the Hall of Famer is blocking in a different way, and with uncertain results.
He is one of the most public faces among football’s old-hands whose physical and financial health have diminished, and who also have a beef with the powerful National Football League.
First there is the issue of the concussions they sustained when the game had fewer safety rules. But then there is the fact that pre-1993 retirees received no health insurance and that many earn risible pensions by today’s NFL standards.
“I never expected to be the building blocks of a multibillion-dollar industry that won’t even give you a crumb,” he said. “I get obsessed.”
DeLamielleure, who now lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, receives a monthly pension of $1,247 from the NFL, while health insurance comes courtesy of his wife’s job as a nurse.
The cornerstone of the Buffalo Bills’ famed “Electric Company” offensive line during the 1970s, DeLamielleure still looks good, but the damage he sustained is out of sight.
Doctors at UCLA estimate that he received 225,000 blows to the head and have diagnosed him with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a disease linked to depression, dementia and memory loss set off by repeated head trauma.
Despite the diagnosis, DeLamielleure cannot prove he played with concussions, and the NFL says determining if a person has CTE when he is alive is an emerging science.
DeLamielleure was one of more than 4,500 former players who sued the NFL, accusing the league of hiding the long-term effects of head injuries. But he is among the dozen or so retired players who opted out of a settlement with the league, likely to be approved by a judge after a fairness hearing on Nov. 19.
That means the six-time Pro Bowler, who suffers from mood swings and sleeplessness, will continue with his own lawsuit, where he thinks he can receive more money.
‘DESTITUTE HALL OF FAMERS’
Since DeLamielleure retired in 1985, the league made the game safer, eliminating the injury-enducing “wedge” on kickoff returns and banning head slaps.
“These guys have literally made the NFL healthier and have gotten nothing in return,” said DeLamielleure’s attorney, Jason Luckasevic. “They chew these guys up and they spit them out.”
The NFL declined to comment for this story.
”I know what people think,“ said DeLamielleure, who earned a total of $130,000 in his first five years and in his final year made $200,000. ”You’re in the Hall of Fame, you got it made.
“Well, we just came back from a golf tournament for destitute Hall of Famers. You don’t see that every day.”
Whether when he’s trying to sleep or just mowing the lawn, DeLamielleure gets incensed when he thinks of his treatment by the NFL. “I know I have brain damage,” he said. “You know you have some issues when you can’t get it out of your head.”
He said he has 68 percent hearing loss in his left ear, a result of head slaps, and has endured buzzing in his head for the last 30 years. He think effects of the CTE are lurking.
DeLamielleure thinks about Junior Seau, the former San Diego linebacker who killed himself in 2012, and Hall of Fame center Mike Webster, who suffered from amnesia, dementia, depression before dying at the age of 50. Both had CTE.
“When I see my wife have to get up at 5:30 a.m. and go to work for my health insurance, that just eats at my soul,” he said.
Editing by Mary Milliken, Bernard Orr