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Column: Landmark step for NFL

I consider myself fortunate to have played in the NFL for nine seasons. During my years with the Miami Dolphins and Chicago Bears, I played the game that I love, with teammates who have become lifelong friends.

After leaving the game, many of the men I played with have struggled with depression, memory loss, dementia and even worse neurological ailments. They discussed these issues with teammates, then families, then doctors and, ultimately, lawyers to find a way to get the help they needed.

With the concussion settlement reached between retired players and the NFL, that help has finally come. As a class representative for the settlement, I am proud to stand on behalf of my fellow retired players in supporting this historic agreement. This settlement will at long last provide the care and support to those who made professional football the great game it is today.

I certainly gave and received my share of hits during my time in the league, but today I am lucky not to have any serious neurological symptoms. Like many other retired NFL players, however, I worry about the future. Like any parent, I want to be sure my children will be cared for should something happen to me. This settlement provides that peace of mind.

It's clear this agreement represents an extraordinary burden lifted off the backs of men like Kevin Turner and others who suffer from serious brain conditions like ALS, Parkinson's or Alzheimer's. These men will now receive compensation for the medical care they urgently need and deserve. They can rest more easily in the knowledge that their families will get some relief from the financial and emotional stress of their medical needs.

For retired NFL players who don't suffer from a severe brain condition, the settlement provides baseline medical assessments and followup care as well as compensation should they become sick in the future. This medical testing and safety net is exactly what we fought for in the lawsuit. While no one can predict the future, the baseline testing program ensures that we'll have access to the diagnostic and preventive care needed to catch early warning signs and receive treatment before the condition rapidly grows severe.

In football, I learned the importance of looking out for your teammates. Whether on or off the field, we always took care of each other — a camaraderie and sense of solidarity that continues today. The men who played in the NFL are bonded together by their memories of professional football. We all share in the aches, the scars and the joint replacements, living with the possibility that our health could one day deteriorate. Now that our days in the game are over, it's more important than ever that we look out for each other.

I have many friends from the NFL who are really hurting today. By supporting this agreement, I stand with the men who need security and care today, as well as those who may need it decades into the future and will now be protected.

I volunteered to represent the baseline assessment subclass in this NFL concussion settlement because I believe in the importance of safeguarding our futures. I'm blessed to have four wonderful children, and I always strive to be a father they can be proud of. By spreading the word about this settlement, and encouraging my fellow retirees to take part in its benefits, I hope I'm doing my part.

This is a landmark moment for the sport of football and the men who played it. The combination of immediate medical assessments and the guarantee of financial protection for the future is a promise that all retired players can count on. There is plenty of work to be done. Yet I am grateful that we are taking this step forward to care for the men who are hurting, and to keep the football family strong.

Shawn Wooden spent nine seasons in the NFL playing safety for the Miami Dolphins and Chicago Bears. He lives in Miami, where he works as a financial adviser and actively contributes to a host of local charities including Big Brothers Big Sisters and the Boys & Girls Club. He is the representative for the baseline assessment subclass in the concussion settlement with the NFL. He wrote this exclusively for the Tampa Bay Times.

Column: Landmark step for NFL 01/17/14 [Last modified: Friday, January 17, 2014 5:33pm]
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