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Former NFL players from Oklahoma weigh in on concussion settlement and share their experiences

Former OSU player Rusty Hilger, former Sooners Steve Zabel and Jimbo Elrod, and Langston AD Mike Garrett talk about the settlement and their time in the NFL.
by Michael Baldwin Published: January 27, 2014
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Before the 2013 season, the NFL agreed to pay $765 million to settle a lawsuit in which former players contended league officials knew about the dangers of concussions.

Almost six months later, the case drags on for 4,500 former players, including former Oklahoma State quarterback Rusty Hilger. The Southeast High product got involved in the lawsuit after talking to former OU running back Marcus Dupree's attorney.

One condition to the proposed settlement is this can't be viewed as an admission of guilt by the NFL.

“The cover-up is what bothers me,” said Hilger, who played five NFL seasons. “I was knocked completely out three times. Now we know a real concussion basically is when you see stars. I had 15 or 20 or more of those.”

Steve Zabel, who played at OU in the late 1960s, is in his second stint as president of the Oklahoma chapter of the retired NFL Players Association, an organization that raises money for scholarships and charities at its annual golf event at Oak Tree National.

Zabel was on the sidelines 35 years ago when a horrific injury raised health-risk concerns in a violent sport. Zabel watched Raiders safety Jack Tatum lower his shoulder in a preseason game. The infamous hit on wide receiver Darryl Stingley, Zabel's teammate on the New England Patriots, paralyzed for life. The hit was legal in 1978.

“It was a different era,” Zabel said. “We now know things weren't done the right way. I one time got knocked out blocking on a kickoff return. They waved ammonia capsules under my nose. I played the rest of the game. Back then, you never heard the word concussion.”

Langston University athletic director Mike Garrett played seven years in the NFL. The 1965 Heisman Trophy winner out of Southern Cal said he suffered two or three concussions, including one in Denver while he played for the Kansas City Chiefs.

“I landed on my head, and my left side — I couldn't stop my left arm and shoulder from wiggling,” Garrett said. “The team doctor told me to lay down or sit on the bench for a little bit, but I told him I needed to get back in the game. I went back in and told (quarterback Len) Dawson that I'm not worth a hill of beans right now and just move me in motion.”

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by Michael Baldwin
Redhawks, Barons, MLB, NFL Reporter
Mike Baldwin has been a sports reporter for The Oklahoman since 1982. Mike graduated from Okmulgee High School in 1974 and attended Oklahoma Christian University, graduating with a journalism degree in 1978. Mike's first job was sports editor...
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