Former Bills Great Sues NFL Over Concussion Problems

4:55 PM, May 24, 2012   |    comments
Harry Jacobs
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HAMBURG, NY - Harry Jacobs played middle linebacker for the Bills during the team's hey day in the 1960's.

Jacobs was the defensive captain when the Bills won back-to-back AFL championships in 1964 and 1965.

Jacobs played the most violent position in a most violent sport.

And all you need to know about how Jacobs played back then is to look at his fingers today- they are bent and broken.

And if Jacobs' hands look like that, you can only imagine what the hits to his head were like.

Harry Jacobs: "I played with an intensity that I wanted the other guy to respect me and how do you get that respect? You hit them hard because that's how you play the game."

Scott Brown: "Back in the time when you played they used to call it 'getting your bell rung,' any idea how many concussions you suffered?"

Harry Jacobs: "I really don't have an estimate, I have some incidents I remember very well.

One of those came in a game against the 49ers.

Harry Jacobs: "At my middle linebacker position, I stand right across from the quarterback, but (after a tackle) I couldn't see him, couldn't see him. I saw only blurry lines and so I kept on playing. I never wanted to go off the football field, I wanted to stay right there, so I stayed.

"Another time I blitzed against Miami and I hit Larry Csonka's knee and he hit me right in the head and they showed me on camera and looking right at my eyes you knew I was nowhere around. I went back and played the second half."

Harry and his wife Kay say all of those hits started catching up with Harry about eight years ago.

Harry wanted Kay at his side for our interview to help him fill in the blanks to questions he might not be able to answer or things he might not be able to remember.

Harry Jacobs: "We'd have a Thanksgiving dinner and I would sit back and everybody would be laughing and talking and I'm gone, wasn't there. Now I hardly remember that, but Kay would speak more to that than I could."

Kay Jacobs: "The kids a lot of times would say 'what's the matter with dad? What's the matter with dad?' And I would say I don't know what's the matter with dad."

Harry Jacobs: "The last few years, we've really had significant problems with me. There was a time when I was afraid, I worked in Buffalo my whole business career, but I was afraid to drive to Buffalo (from Hamburg) because I wouldn't know how to get home."

Scott Brown: "Because you might get lost?"

Harry Jacobs: "Yeah. So we've been working on that, I use my GPS really well."

Kay took Harry to a neurologist, who diagnosed Harry with "mild cognitive impairment."

Harry suffers from symptoms that are often associated with repeated blows to the front part of the brain- depression, impulse control and problems with concentration.

Just listen when I asked Harry a question about how back when he played players who were knocked woozy were treated.

Scott Brown: "So there were no precautions about keeping you out (of the game) or anything?"

Harry Jacobs: "No in those days...so with that premise, I forgot what the question, what was the question?"

Harry now takes more than a dozen pills a day, a mix of prescription drugs and supplements to treat his depression and help him with his memory.

And Harry, who had always been known for his sunny disposition, has also suffered from anger problems, at times lashing out at Kay.

The couple has been married for 54 years.

Harry Jacobs: "She knows more what the anger management issues were than I do cause I really don't remember that, I don't doubt that it was there but I don't remember."

Kay Jacobs: "It would be over what I thought were insignificant things that I thought could've been discussed or answered, but yet he would have an outburst of anger."

Scott Brown: "Did your problems cause problems in your marriage?"

Harry Jacobs: "I can answer that yes, but I can let Kay talk to that a little bit because she knows it better because she was the recipient.

Scott Brown: "Has Harry's problems caused a strain on your relationship?"

Kay Jacobs: "Oh absolutely and it still happens at times. It doesn't happen often, but when it does it's never nice."

Last December, Harry and Kay were among the lead plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit filed against the league on behalf of all NFL players.

The lawsuit charges that the NFL failed to take "appropriate steps to prevent and mitigate repeated traumatic brain and head impacts..."

WEB EXTRA: Click here to see read the lawsuit

And that it "permitted players to return to the field before allowing their initial concussion to heal fully."

All of that may lead to a disease called CTE, which is caused by "repetitive trauma to the brain which eventually leads to dementia"

CTE can only be diagnosed by examining the brain after death. A number of former NFL players who either committed suicide or died at a young age were subsequently diagnosed with CTE, including former Pittsburgh Steelers great Mike Webster who was homeless when he died at age 50, West Seneca native Justin Strzelyczyk, who was 36 years old when he was killed while driving the wrong way on the Thruway, and former Bear Dave Duerson who shot himself in the chest and asked that his brain be studied for CTE.

Scott Brown: "Do you think the problems you're suffering from are directly related to your time playing football?"

Harry Jacobs: "No doubts in my mind. I never had car accidents, but I played 22 years of football. It was exciting, though I didn't know any of this (concussion) stuff.

Today, Harry Jacobs is at peace, with himself, his life and his future, whatever it may hold.

Part of the reason is that he and Kay share a deep faith.

Harry Jacobs: "I know that God is in control of my life and Kay's life and I think this is one of the things that he wants us to be honest and open and up front about and Kay and I have talked about that."

Now Harry Jacobs says, all he wants is his day in court.

Harry Jacobs: "It's an opportunity for a 75 year old man who played a long time ago to stand up and be counted for what he believes is right in America. My objective is to get the truth out there. There are men out there who have real problems."

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