'A superstar off the field'


A selection of reader responses from those who have read ESPN.com's examination of the pending court case involving the NFL retirement plan and former Pittsburgh Steelers center Mike Webster:

Man on a mission
In the early 1980s, I had a ministry that ministered to the inmates in the county jail and the state and federal prisons. Mike contacted me and offered his services in any way to help the inmates through the ministry. When I met with Mike, I learned that his brother was serving a prison sentence in Detroit, and I realized that Mike's heart and intentions were genuine and his desire to help facilitate ministry to the inmates was sincere.

Mike went into the jails and prisons with me and poured his heart into ministering to many inmates, challenging them to face up to responsibilities and their need to believe in and trust in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Mike would also encourage and facilitate other professional athletes to join him during his ministry time with the inmates.

Mike not only offered and gave of his time, but he also offered one of his Super Bowl rings and his new Suburban to help finance the ministry. Though I did not accept his offers, I saw the tender, generous heart of a man that so many people only knew in the arena of professional football. He was willing to give of himself and of his personal possessions so others less fortunate than he could be blessed. He was a superstar off the field to all whose lives he touched. Please let the world know of this Mike Webster that I had the pleasure and privilege of knowing and working alongside.

Jack Sullivan

A friend who never stopped giving
I had the pleasure of knowing [Mike Webster] when I was an assistant equipment manager with the Chiefs for Webby's last two years of his career. The Chiefs were the first NFL team I worked with.

It used to be hilarious to hear Bill Maas, the Pro Bowl defensive tackle, give Webby hell about his age everyday during stretching. He would ask Webby questions like if it was true that Webby took Cleopatra to the prom? ... Did he fight for the North or South during the Civil War? What was it like to play with a leather helmet? And on and on and on.

Webby would have to drink an entire bottle of Nyquil to sleep at night and then have a pot of coffee first thing in the morning to wake up. On home games, Webby was the first one to arrive. He would actually lift weights before games. During cold games, he would rub "Heat" (Ben-Gay) on his hands and then put his gloves on. I tried that once ... afterwards I thought Webby was nuts!

On Thanksgiving, when the vets played the traditional turkey joke on the rookies, Webby would buy each rookie a turkey anyway. I spent my first Christmas away from home, with the Webster's and Jaworski's. Webby and Jaws wanted me there and would not have it any other way. In the offseason, Webby bought my airline tickets to accompany him on community service events. Webby was a member of the NFL Coalition Against Drugs. Jaws would MC the events, Webby spoke and I made sure we all had a place to go afterwards. Most of the NFL players that were there, chased girls, got drunk and avoided autograph seekers. Webby signed autographs and took the time to get to know the people that wanted his autograph.

One time, the four of us attended Joe Namath's Super Bowl party in Atlantic City. Webby pretended he didn't know who Joe was. Joe was kind of puzzled, told Webby that he had a Super Bowl ring and Webby told him that he had four rings! Finally Webby gave Joe a hug and then said of course he knew who he was. Great times.

One of most flattering events for me... the day Webby announced his retirement, he moved the announcement to the afternoon because he knew that I was returning from out of town and he wanted me there. Unfortunately my plane was very late and I missed the press conference. He was on the way out of the stadium when I arrived. I remember he told me, "Hey Albert, I just retired, so now we are going to get to hang out even more." I asked him, "So what are you going to do, become an equipment manager?" He said "Sure." I actually think he probably thought about it.

The day I got a phone call of a friend telling me that Webby was gone was very sad. Obviously I was in shock, sad and finally I relented to knowing that a good friend was gone. A friend that gave and gave and never stopped giving. I just wished that I could of given back when he needed help. I just wish he would of told me how bad things were.

God bless Mike Webster!

Albert Veytia
El Paso, Texas

Webster was a Wisconsin hero
I grew up in Rhinelander, Wis., and one of the first things I saw in going to high school was in the trophy room -- Mike's pics and trophies. Last year, Rhinelander High changed the name of the football stadium -- and had a celebration and remembrance of Mike -- to Mike Webster Stadium.

All of [Wisconsin], if they would of known Mike's problems, would [have] stepped forward to help.

Even though Mike wasn't a Packer, he was a Wisconsin hero.

John Fetzer

Hitting close to home
I read with sadness your piece [on] ESPN.com about Mike Webster. Growing up during the '70s and '80s, it always seemed that when someone talked about the trenches Webster's name was mentioned. While reading your article, sadness crept over me when I heard he was taking Paxil and Klonopin along with a host of other drugs for the constant physical and mental anguish. My wife also took the dynamic duo of Paxil and Klonopin. As a result, she could not pump gas at a gas station. She could not come pick me up at work (she didn't remember how to get there and would get lost). The constant disorientation and apathy almost drove us apart. I felt for the Webster family upon reading of the constant seeming alienation from someone so loved and desired.

I hope and pray for the Webster family that they can see that their father tried his best but was literally unable to meet his family's needs. Reading of him weeping over his journals and calling desperately to friends and family and describing his disorientation brought back vivid reminders of my wife's own desperate pleas. Thank God that she had the courage to break the cycle and refuse her doctors' and family's recommendations to remain on those mind-altering medications. I appreciate your attempt at describing the final years of Mike Webster's life and the trail of pain and seared memories the end of his career wrought on his family. It is a story everyone should read and understand.

Michael A. Sweetland

The random road of fate
I was once a homeless foster kid living in conditions not unlike those of Mike Webster. Now I am a college professor. Unlike Mike, my life went from horrible to great, his from great to lousy. Your article was full of empathy and compassion. You also painted a picture of a pained, confused and lonely life that had once been rich and colorful. I sometimes think that the road to greatness or despair is random and that the whims of fate are always outside of our doors waiting to pounce.

Dr. John R. Seita
Author, "God Is In the Kitchen and Other Everyday Miracles"

A willingness to give back
In 1991, I graduated from Peters Township High School in the South Hills of Pittsburgh. While I attended Peters Township, I would occasionally run laps at the football field adjacent to our school. Frequently, Mike Webster would be there running laps and running the steps in the bleachers.

When I realized it was him, I immediately introduced myself because he was one of my favorite players. I spoke with [him] on several different occasions, and he taught me a lot about discipline and hard work. I will not bore you with the details of our conversations, but I was reading your five-part story on him and something you wrote caught my eye. In the fourth part of your story, you indicated that Mr. Webster's Super Bowl rings were still in a lawyer's office (I presume after someone used them as collateral). If that is the case, I would like to volunteer to pay the collateral so that the rings could be returned to his estate. I have no interest in acquiring the rings. I would only like to see that his Super Bowl rings are returned to his family.

John Fagan
Tampa, Fla.

The humanity and humility of fatherhood
Your story on Mike Webster takes me to tears, not just because of the great injustice of the NFL and its retirement and disability plan, but because there is nothing more important in my life than being a father. [There is] nothing I do so well or care more about than being the father of my wondrous 23-year-old daughter, Anna. Your first article cuts to the chase of fathering and the special bond than can exist between fathers and their children. You capture the essence of the amazing possibility of that relationship.

My hope is that others who read the complete series of articles feel will similarly and appreciate even more the incredible good fortune that comes from being a father, and a father cared about so much by their children. The more fervent hope is that, in the short run, Mike Webster's children know deep within that he cared deeply for them. In the long run, I hope that that those fathers who are not sure of the impact of their fathering will know that it is an act of great humanity and of impact worthy of appreciation and humility.

Terry Berkeley
Hanover, Pa.

Brain injuries all too common
Mike Webster suffered brain damage from blows to the head he received playing football and the consequent stress and medication to ease the pain led to his death by heart attack. I know this because I have a Ph.D. and 15 years experience in neurobiology research and I have brain damage from a traumatic brain injury I received playing recreational sports 2.5 years ago. Mike's symptoms and difficulties interacting in society are characteristic of someone living with a brain injury.

Unfortunately, society's difficulty in interacting with Mike are symptomatic of our intolerance for those who are different or have problems and our worship of "winning," which can be distilled into "making money." All too often we become a problem, not a human being who has a problem. When you have a brain injury most people tell you to go away, sometimes literally. Usually you try, only to discover you have nowhere to go.

I don't want to give the impression that I feel like all of society is bad. I have met and become friends with some incredible people. Unfortunately, they are few and hard to find so I understand why Mike drifted. As a result I try to inform people about the prevalence and the difficulties of living with brain damage at every opportunity. It is estimated that 5 million to 6 million Americans live with a brain injury -- which is probably a large underestimate due to under-reporting -- and the numbers are increasing because advances in trauma care are increasing the survival rate for people with head injuries. It is an epidemic which no one wants to talk about.

Steve Perrett
Birmingham, Ala.

Wounded in the trenches
As I read [the] articles of Mike Webster I slowly wept in my own way as I too feel what Mike went through. I am taking nothing away from that great man, and my problems aren't as bad as his. Football players [I played football at St. Mary's University in Nova Scotia] are a different breed, especially offensive linemen. The brutal punishment we put our bodies through so others can take the fame and glory, and everyone on the team can always look to us for strength and support; and coaches can always refer to linemen when a receiver or defensive back says they can't play or practice due to an injury. In that case, we make a deal and except the consequences of our actions and decisions. We know the results of our decisions, the concussions we don't report so we can play and be there for our teammates.

I have excepted the consequences of my actions, the pain, headaches, herniated discs, nerve damage, loss of cartilage in the knee, but I don't blame anyone but myself. I'm not mad at myself, past teams, doctors, coaches, or the game. You know what's going to happen every time you strap up the helmet, the abuse you are going to put your body through. Especially when you have injuries, you know the pain and anxiety you are going to have.

I'm not taking anything away from Mike Webster, and I don't know the whole story. But why are the kids suing the league over the decisions that Mike made? Mike knew basically what the result of most of his decisions were to be right?

Jason Simpson
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

A hero's sad story
As a big Mike Webster fan, I want to thank you and ESPN for this five-part series. I was brought back to the great Steeler teams of the 1970's when I was watching the AFC championship game this past weekend. I started thinking about Mike Webster Sunday night and Monday morning. I then decided to check out some of the post game comments on line and went to ESPN's homepage Monday afternoon. When the large photo of Mike appeared with your article I was blown away and stunned at the same time. The [stories] brought tears to my eyes. When I played center in high school this guy was my hero. Thanks again for hard your work on putting this piece together. And if you do have contact with the Webster family please tell them that they are in my thoughts.

Mark Johnston
Lendonderry, N.H.

A sad story that's too familiar
Growing up in Pittsburgh in the late '70s and early '80s afforded myself and others the luxury of idolizing some of these amazing sport figures, including Iron Mike. I can remember countless trips to Latrobe, standing in line, hoping to get a pat on the head from this man, who I shamelessly admit at the time, I may have idolized more than my own father.

As I read this article, as I did at the time of his death, I am just consumed with an excruciating sadness for both Mike and his family. You hope that Mike's story is a unique one, at the same time knowing deep down inside that it probably is not.

Rick Colonello