Former Bengals Bill Staley struggles in post-NFL life

Meet Bill Staley, a defensive end out of Utah State that Cincinnati selected in the second round of the 1968 NFL draft. He has the distinction of being the second-pick ever by the Bengals franchise.

Wow.

That's all I can muster.

Football can be so impersonal.

It becomes personal during the season as your favorite team(s) play, or draft or sign free agents. But when the show is over, when the last locker is cleaned out for the season, when there's nothing left to read on the internets, we turn off the TV, close the browser, and/or go outside (well, some of us). It becomes impersonal, especially with the league's forefathers -- those that came along several generations ago, most of whom suffer aches and pains that will surely follow them until the end; as well as the financial struggles they incur with their endless rehabilitation. These are the horror stories that the NFL ignores, that fans continue to be ignorant of, but they grow daily with more stories being heard, and more players wanting some help.

They don't regret the life. Why would they? The camaraderie, the love for the game, are powerful auras. Had they been born a generation or two later, they'd enjoy the benefits of explosive salaries compared to their era; plus the game far safer than the wild west of the 1970s. According to Forbes, the average salary in 1970 was $23,000 (translating to $115,000 in 2006). This is the average of EVERY player in the game. The minimum salary today is FOUR TIMES more for rookies ($420,000) than it was for all players 45 years ago  (after adjusting for inflation and all of those economic terms). ROOKIES! If a player has a year of experience, it balloons to $495,000 -- then $570K for two years, $645K for three, and so forth. These numbers exponentially increase every year, per the CBA. In 2018, the minimum rookie contract will be worth $480,000.

The NFL continues to be the most poorly compensated sport, despite the recklessness for which players expose their bodies. The average salary in the NFL in 2012, for all players, was $1.9 million -- according to Forbes, that is the lowest average salary across the major four sports at the time.

None of this matters to Bill Staley, a former defensive end out of Utah State that Cincinnati selected in the second round of the 1968 NFL draft. He has the distinction of being the second-pick ever by the Bengals franchise, after Bob Johnson and running back Tom Smiley.

Tom Groeschen with the Cincinnati Enquirer profiled Staley on Sunday, now 67 years old and living out of California with his wife. Staley is having a hell of a time living life after football, after all of these years.

Football, it turns out, took a major toll on Staley. The former defensive tackle left the NFL after five years with a bum shoulder, wrecked knees and a head that hurts to this day. Staley said he has been diagnosed with traumatic brain injury (TBI) from multiple concussions while playing football.

"My brain is not working," Staley said in a recent telephone interview with The Enquirer. "I have headaches that last three weeks at a time. I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy."

After five seasons (two seasons with the Bengals, three with the Chicago Bears) and concussions, shoulder and knee injuries, Staley retired. Now a farmer, he's also part of 88 Plan, that provides "eligible players in need with up to $88,000 per year for medical and custodial care"

Staley said he also has post-traumatic stress disorder. He wonders if he also has CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), a progressive degenerative disease which only can be diagnosed postmortem. Junior Seau, Mike Webster and Andre Waters are among deceased former NFL stars discovered to have CTE.

"The thing is, those jerks (NFL) knew about it," Staley said.

In January, U.S. District judge Anita Brody rejected a proposed $765 million settlement between the NFL and more than 4,800 retired players (plus 1,000 family members) who sued the league over concussions.

"I don't know where I actually fall in there, but the judge says $760 million or whatever wasn't enough," Staley said. "Meanwhile I've got a couple of teeth out, I don't have air conditioning in my truck and I'm running out of money. I can't really work, but I keep working in the garden."

Football can be so impersonal. Read more about Staley's story.

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