Widow of Cowboys great Ralph Neely says his final years were destroyed by CTE - Albuquerque Journal

Widow of Cowboys great Ralph Neely says his final years were destroyed by CTE

The ball squirts out of the hands of Dallas Cowboys Dan Reeves, right, as he is brought down by a Green Bay tackler during the second quarter of the game, Nov. 26, 1970, in Dallas. On the play are Fred Carr (53) linebacker and Bob Jeter (21) cornerback of the Packers. Ralph Neely (73) races in to try to get the ball, recovered by another Cowboy player. (AP Photo/Ferd Kaufman)

FORT WORTH – As a result of playing football, Ralph Neely had dementia, a bad back, a bad neck, replaced knees, a hip and a shoulder, scoliosis of the spine, and by the end he was in so much pain he told his wife he no longer wanted to live.

“He said he would do it all over again,” said Neely’s widow, Janis, in a phone interview.

On Jan. 6, one of the greatest players in the history of the University of Oklahoma and the Dallas Cowboys died. Ralph Neely – Arkansas-born, Farmington High School alumnus and 2014 inductee into the New Mexico Sports Hall of Fame, was 78.

Few could could have known the price that Neely paid to play football, and the lengths he went to be compensated by the NFL as part of its settlement with the former players who dealt with the effects of CTE.

Both Neely and former Dallas Cowboys running back Dan Reeves, who also recently died, were members of the NFL’s greatest generation that essentially started what is now the most successful pro sports league in America against the best interests of their health.

As that generation enters the final stages of their lives, so many of them are in terrible shape. Ralph Neely’s brother, Richard, said Reeves was also suffering the effects of CTE.

Neely played for the Dallas Cowboys from 1965 to 1977, and is a member of the NFL’s 1960s All-Decade team. He was a member of two Super Bowl winning teams, was an All-Pro four times and an All-American at Oklahoma.

In the end, Neely’s original desire was to have his remains available to be studied by the UT-Southwestern medical center for the affects of CTE and concussions.

Janis said, however, there was some confusion in the paperwork process and that Ralph’s remains will not be available for research.

The intent was there, and while Ralph Neely didn’t want football to be stopped he wants people to know exactly what they are getting into if they play.

“He wanted all of the cards on the table,” Janis said. “He didn’t want anyone [the NFL] to shy away from the responsibilities. He didn’t want the game to be stopped, but he did hate to see kids play rough.”

Richard said his brother even once played a game against the St. Louis Cardinals and that he was not aware of anything until he was on the plane ride home. “It was one of the highest-graded games of the season,” he said.

That’s just the way it was then.

Janis said her husband began to show the effects of the toll of the game between five to 10 years ago.

The hardest part was Ralph was aware of it. She said he knew something was wrong. Despite his best attempts to hide it, Janis knew her husband had dementia.

Ralph was one of the ex-players who joined the lawsuit against the NFL to receive compensation as a result of suffering concussions and head trauma.

The case was settled in April 2016, and it was estimated it would cost the league about $1 billion.

If you are a player in that suit who expected some money, the required lengths to receive that money are so great a lot of the plaintiffs simply gave up.

Janis feels that was the long-term plan by the NFL’s attorneys; to set up a system so draining and difficult, that she believes that the ex-player or his family will simply stop taking the necessary steps to see their part of the settlement.

“It took years and years of fighting it,” Janis said. “The NFL had a listing of doctors we could see, and we did that. A year later they said some of those doctors weren’t qualified.

“It was testing after testing. One series of tests lasted all day. We did everything multiple times, and sent the same questionnaire forms back. I was the one who did the leg work and would beat the tables and threaten to go to the media.

“Our attorney was really concerned that many of these people would simply pass away before it was ever finished. The family would get the money, but the guy who played would never see it.”

Last year, Ralph received the money.

“There was real satisfaction there. It was worth it,” Janis said. “(The NFL) was going to pay come hell or high water. I was not going to give up. It was something he deserved. He deserved a lot more from the Cowboys, but that’s for another discussion.”

Despite the compensation, there was not much that could be done about Ralph’s condition.

He was struggling mentally and physically. He would need a walker, which he hated. If he was sitting down, he was OK. But once he started to try to walk around, he was out of breath.

On Dec. 23 last year, he went to the hospital. “He quit eating on December 27,” Janis said. “He had never before mentioned wanting to die at all, but it got to be too much for him. He was in so much pain.”

Ralph came home on Jan. 2, and just three days later he was gone.

“He didn’t watch [football] much any more because for him it was work, but he loved the game,” Janis said. “He really did love the game. It created so much for him. He just didn’t want anyone to go through what he went through.”

Home » From the newspaper » Widow of Cowboys great Ralph Neely says his final years were destroyed by CTE

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