Harry Carson is a legend. He’s a Hall of Famer with unquestioned credentials. He’s a throwback to another era. Not quite, say, the Paleolithic Era, but it certainly seems like the former New York Giants linebacker might have emerged from the Stone Age based on what he recently told The New York Times.
The comments were in a story on a meeting last Thursday outside Washington, D.C. between NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and former players regarding the medical care of older ex-players. It was the third such meeting with the commissioner, all of which Carson organized.
Several wives of former players suffering from dementia had expressed a desire to attend the meeting on behalf of their incapacitated husbands but were barred by Carson. Specifically, the Times story focused on Eleanor Perfetto, whose husband, Ralph Wenzel, is a former guard who played seven seasons with Pittsburgh and San Diego. Today, he is all but incapable of taking care of himself, let alone get to a meeting. But his wife could not attend, either. In fact, she came to the site of the meeting but was barred from the room, forced to stand outside while issues affecting her husband were being discussed on the other side of the door.
“If there’s a woman in the room, I have to watch what I say,” he told the Times. “Maybe we need to go back and make an exception for her and the wives of players with dementia. But then again, men are men and they’ll look at that woman and will not say everything they want to say in the manner they want to say it.
I have to watch what I say?
Men are men?
This wasn’t a bunch of guys sitting around watching football and drinking beer at a bar. It wasn’t guys telling jokes in the locker room or on the golf course. This was a meeting where serious issues were discussed, serious issues affecting dozens of former NFL players,including many who are ailing to such a degree that they can no longer speak for themselves.
So they send their wives, the women who care for them, quite often like mothers care for an infant. Their burdens and challenges are the same as those of their peers, the ones who could make their way into the meeting and speak for themselves. Yet thanks to Carson, they had no voice. “The players who can’t say what they need, their needs should be spoken for,” said Kay Morris, whose husband, Larry – a former linebacker who played 11 seasons with the Los Angeles Ram, Chicago and Atlanta – is institutionalized in Atlanta. His nickname was once Brahma Bull.
(Many players suffering from dementia, including Wenzel, pictured left, receive up to $88,000 annually from the NFL and its players’ union through a program called the 88 Plan, so named for the uniform number worn by John Mackey, pictured above, the Hall of Fame former tight end for the Baltimore Colts who also suffers from the deteriorating ailment.)
Carson’s mindset may just be his own – at least I hope so. Yet to a degree it reflects a locker-room culture that has not progressed as much as the world outside. (Interestingly, women reporters can enter NFL locker rooms to do their jobs.) It’s a throwback to a mindset of another era.
Carson is doing a noble thing by setting up these meetings on behalf of his struggling peers. And he also told the Times he would support a meeting between Goodell and the wives of players suffering from dementia – which prompted Sylvia Mackey (John’s wife) to quip: “So a separate-but-equal thing?”
It’s good to see she has maintained a sense of humor in the midst of her saga.
Now if only Harry Carson will gain common sense and allow the wives of his peers into the room so they can speak for their men, who cannot speak for themselves.
Photos courtesy the Orlando Sentinel (Mackey) and the Ralph Wenzel Trust