Categorized | Football

Reconsidering the Past – After a Stroke

By Leif Skodnick

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Charlie Babb got a Super Bowl ring in his first year with the Dolphins and had a stellar career.
(Photo: Google Images)

Despite a knee injury that ended his football career after eight seasons with the Miami Dolphins, Charlie Babb didn’t realize what the game did to his body until two years ago.

“I was having headaches, and I got out of bed one morning and just fell to my left, on the floor,” said Babb, who was a rookie safety on the undefeated 1972 Dolphins team. “My wife said, ‘That’s it, you’re going to the doctor.’”

Babb was admitted to the intensive care unit of a hospital in the Naples, Fl. area. A series of tests revealed that he had suffered a stroke.

“I said, ‘I did not have a stroke, because I have no blockage,’” said Babb. “They said, “it’s a different kind of stroke. Your vertebral arteries in your neck have shut off from some traumatic injuries in the past, and you’re not getting blood to your cerebellum.’”

The source of Babb’s traumatic injuries was, he said, obvious to his doctors. “They said it had to be caused by trauma associated with playing in the NFL and tackling with your head the way we were taught to do that back then,” said Babb, who appeared in 97 regular season games with Miami between 1972 and 1979. Babb’s neurologist did not return a phone call.

Now 63, Babb is one of more than 4,000 former NFL players suing the league in a federal class action lawsuit. The players claim that the league negligently concealed the dangers of head trauma to players for years.

A humble man who is appreciative for the opportunity to have played in the NFL, Babb built a respectable career in Miami’s defensive backfield at a time when professional football seemed more physical.

“Our practices were a lot different than they are in the NFL today,” said Babb. “We had contact pretty much every day in those days.

“I know I got knocked out a bunch of times throughout my career, and I saw stars every time I hit. But when you got hit with the helmets back then, that’s what would happen. I had concussions, I know once or twice I was put in [the hospital] overnight after a game… I’d get woke up every hour on the hour to make sure nothing bad had happened.”

Babb said he wouldn’t have joined the litigation had the stroke not occurred.

“When I left the Dolphins back in 1980, attorneys wanted me to file a workman’s comp claim,” said Babb in a phone interview from his home in Naples. “I told them I wasn’t going to do that. I enjoyed playing football and I was still healthy enough to live my life. But then I had this stroke that almost killed me. My neurologist told me after the fact that I came pretty close to losing my life, and so I entered the suit.”

As a player, Babb earned the respect of his teammates and was well-regarded on and off the field.

“We came in as rookies together, and played a lot of special teams our first couple of years. He’s a hard hitter and intelligent, and played his position very well,” said former linebacker Larry Ball in a phone interview. “He’s easy to get along with and a really good guy.”

Ball spent the first three seasons of his NFL career as a teammate of Babb’s with the Dolphins, and still sees his former teammate several times a year, often at family get-togethers.

“He’d never sue any body, except that this scared him to death,” said Leslie Babb, Charlie’s wife of 42 years.

Although lawyers for the players involved in the case and the league reached a settlement agreement, U.S. District Judge Anita B. Brody rejected it on January 14. Brody feared that the proposed $765 million settlement would not be enough to pay all the possible claims, and requested both sides provide further analysis showing the settlement’s sufficiency.

Babb, left, with Mercury Morris, at a Dolphins charity event in 2012. (Photo: Naples News)

Babb, left, with Mercury Morris, at a Dolphins charity event in 2012. (Photo: Naples News)

Babb can’t say for certain whether the proposed settlement amount is enough. “The amount of money, it’s hard to put a number on it, you know, and how much is enough and how much is too little,” he said. “And there’s other people who have killed themselves and people who have gone through strong bouts of dementia and things like that that deserve more.”

Uninsured when his stroke occurred, Babb hopes to recover the cost of his medical expenses from the concussion suit. “It was over $100,000 in one week,” he said. “And I negotiated that down.”

“He went [for treatment] daily, five days a week, supposed to be for two months, and after a month he was saying, ‘I’m not coming back,” said Leslie of her husband’s rehabilitation program. Part of Babb’s reasoning on ending his rehabilitation so soon was the cost.

“It’s too expensive,” Leslie said. “He still had to walk on a walker for a long time. I’d say a long time – two weeks, and he threw it away because he wanted to do it with a cane.”

Despite her husband’s recovery over the past two years, Leslie Babb questioned the NFL’s commitment to the retired players, especially of her husband’s generation.

“They have failed to provide for them,” she said. “All of our people made them proud and made people want to watch football.”

For Charlie Babb, recovering enough money to cover his medical expenses would be sufficient.

“If I recouped basically what it cost me out of my pocket, I’d probably be pretty happy as long as I didn’t have any further complications,” he said.

But the possibility of complications looms. A combination of drug therapy and avoiding certain activities guards Babb against another stroke. “If anything happens, if I don’t keep cholesterol down, keep my blood thin, I could have a stroke at the snap of a finger,” he said.

“He will not ski anymore, he’s scared to death that he’s gonna fall and wrench his neck,” Leslie said. “It’s because his vertebral arteries are gone. So that’s scary, but you can’t dwell on dying, and you’ve gotta just go on, and you know, hope that that ain’t gonna happen.”

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