Categorized | Football

“I Don’t Want to Say I’m Losing It”

By Jamie Lisanti

Dexter Bussey (24) gained 5,105 yards for the Detroit Lions. (Photo: Detroit Lions)

Dexter Bussey, left, gained 5,105 yards for the Detroit Lions. (Photo: Detroit Lions)

On game days for the Detroit Lions, Dexter Bussey is still at Ford Field.

He isn’t wearing the number 24 on a silver and blue jersey, and he isn’t on the field adding to his career 5,105 yards as the team’s third all-time leading rusher. He’s not on the sidelines as a coach, or in the stands as a spectator.

Bussey works as a uniform inspector for the National Football League at every home game, examining the uniforms of both teams to make sure they adhere to the league’s policies. Starting during warm-ups and continuing after each play, Bussey looks for incorrect logos, unauthorized colors and any uniform that is not worn according to the league’s guidelines. After 20 seasons, Bussey is trained to spot things like altered or tailored jerseys – which are usually smaller and can expose the plastic blades on the shoulder pads – a safety hazard for other players. He also has a keen eye for written symbols and personal messages on equipment, and anything that may interfere with any licensing agreements. He doesn’t want to be a nuisance to the players on game day, so he tries to help them avoid fines or disciplinary action.

“It gets overlooked until you start hearing complaints,” Bussey said, much like the case of concussions and head trauma in the NFL.

From 1974 to 1984, Bussey had more than 1,200 carries for the Lions as a running back, but he also was a receiver, a blocking back and a special teams player.

“I played in over 150 games, and for each game there [were] four to five practices, so I was hit in the head quite often on a daily basis,” he said in a phone interview. “You can’t play the game and come out better for wear, you certainly will come out worse for wear.”

Now, 30 years after retiring from his 11 seasons in the league, Bussey, 61, is one of more than 4,000 former players who are part of a class-action lawsuit against the NFL, accusing the league of deliberately withholding information about the dangers of concussions and repeated head trauma. In January, Judge Anita Brody of the U.S. District Court in Philadelphia rejected the proposed $765 million settlement. She wants more financial information from both sides about whether the settlement will properly cover the players.

Bussey with his wife, Kay Francis.  (Photo:

Bussey with his wife, Kay Frances.

Bussey lives in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. with his wife of 40 years, Kay Frances. He founded his own medical staffing agency, 1 More Yrd, in 2008, and works full-time as the company’s chief executive officer. His branch manager, Connie Carroll, said in a phone interview he is just as striking as he was in his NFL days – tall, handsome and still very much in shape. But some of his friends and former teammates on the Lions have seen some changes in him over the years.

“I’m concerned, because he’s slowed down and he’s having some problems,” said Michael Danielewicz, Bussey’s friend and pre-season camp roommate during their rookie year with the Lions. “I’m hoping he will receive the best healthcare and support because there will be challenges ahead.”

Although Bussey said he doesn’t feel he is facing any serious issues, he said he joined the suit because “You see what’s going on around you, and you can be one of those as well.” He said since he’s concerned about future health issues, he must think about his family. He stays active by walking, doing body-weight resistance training and playing golf – activities that are low impact, don’t require running or jumping and don’t cause a lot of stress.

“I don’t want to be sick, I don’t want to say I’m losing it,” said Bussey, who added that he was certainly concussed at times on the field, but never diagnosed. “But I know I am forgetful, I need to write things down and I can’t just rely on my memory.”

Ken Callicutt, a running back for the Lions from 1978 to 1982, said in a phone interview that when he sees Bussey at alumni events or other gatherings, he’s still cheerful, but he’s slower during conversations and has trouble remembering games.

Callicutt, who is also part of the lawsuit, said, “There is no doubt there was times when Dexter would come to the sidelines and he just wouldn’t respond to me.”  Callicutt added that when Heisman Trophy winner, Billy Sims, came to the Lions, “Dexter was blocking for him on a lot of plays, going up against 285 to 300 pound guys, and he wasn’t a real big man to be playing that position.”

Bussey (24) also was a receiver for the Lions. (Photo: US Presswire)

Bussey (24) also was a receiver for the Lions. (Photo: US Presswire)

At 6’1” and 220 pounds today – only about 20 pounds heavier than his playing weight – Bussey said he remembers getting his “bell rung,” but in his day, players prided themselves on being able to get up and go off the field in the right direction. His former coach, Rick Forzano, recalled the same type of work ethic.

“If the situation required it, he would give up his body,” said Forzano, who saw Bussey in the fall of 2013. “He wasn’t afraid to hit or get hit – he had a great deal of courage.”

As he watches the Lions’ home games very closely each week, Bussey sees how the game has changed and how it has become more physical.

“I don’t recall any guidelines for the number of practices, the number of days we were in pads or we could hit,” he said. “Today, I think the league is doing scientifically and morally what it needs to eliminate anything unnecessary.”

Bussey continued, “If we knew the future, maybe a lot things would be different, maybe we wouldn’t have played football…Right now, we’ve just got to be patient and let this process work itself out before we complain and look in a different direction.”

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