Former Dallas Cowboys TE, Loomis resident working on NFL concussion documentaryBy: Matthew Kimel, Journal sports editor
By Matthew Kimel
Journal sports editor
Depending on the definition, Doug Cosbie had anywhere between zero and hundreds of concussions during his NFL playing days.
Asked if he was ever concussed during his 10-year career with the Dallas Cowboys from 1979-88, the Loomis resident choose to steal a line from NFL Hall of Famer Steve Young.
“Official?” Cosbie, a three-time Pro Bowler, said with a chuckle. “Official concussions, no. They didn’t document them back when I played. Dozens if not hundreds by the medical definition of a concussion. But I think in the football world, concussion always meant that you got knocked out. Thank goodness that’s changed over the last couple of years.”
Change is a key word for Cosbie when it comes to head injuries.
Cosbie and two of his former teammates are currently working on a full-length documentary addressing the issues of concussions by interviewing former NFL players suffering from head trauma and talking to the medical community that treats concussed athletes.
“Konkussion Stories,” which is intentionally spelled wrong for satirical purposes and probably won’t be completed until January 2014, aims to change the culture of professional football. With the help of Jeff Rohrer, a former Cowboys linebacker who is an award-winning commercial and television producer, and Barry O’Brien, a Santa Clara University football teammate of Cosbie’s who is the executive producer of “CSI: Miami” and co-creator of “Hannah Montana,” the documentary figures to be a top-notch piece.
“For a couple of years Jeff and I have been talking about trying to do something to bring awareness to the issue through the voice of the players and not from a media outlet that takes a sound byte and tries to push an agenda or a story,” Cosbie said. “We want players to tell their own stories.”
But don’t expect the stories to be told by any current players.
“It’s in their best interest long-term, in their post-playing career,” Cosbie said. “But unfortunately for their career, playing for an NFL team, it’s not in their best interest to talk about injuries.”
The stories, instead, will be told by other former Cowboys, including Drew Pearson, Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson, Robert Newhouse, Billy Joe DuPree and George Visger, who played for the 49ers.
Their tales, according to Cosbie, vary from the ones that are heard through the mainstream media.
“You get the tragic when someone commits suicide or kills his girlfriend and then commits suicide,” Cosbie said. “Those are horrible stories, but there’s a lot of guys that are in a lot of pain, emotionally and physically, from concussions that aren’t killing themselves. They aren’t committing violent crimes. We feel their stories need to be told.”
While Cosbie believes the NFL has changed for the better since his time, he still sees more aspects of the game where change is necessary. He himself doesn’t have all the answers, but hopes through the documentary the culture of football will evolve.
“A part of the big problem is the culture of the sport, especially at the NFL level. It’s all about physical and mental toughness,” he said. “If you’re injured or have a problem you just don’t talk about it. You don’t communicate about it for fear of what happened to (San Francisco 49ers quarterback) Alex Smith. You miss your starting job for a couple of weeks, someone else takes it over. When you’re healthy, in most cases they give it back, but in this case they haven’t given it back yet.”
As Cosbie pointed out, there are plenty of other things players can lose from head injuries other than their jobs.
Cosbie has suffered from short-term memory loss and had a grand mal seizure in January while having a hip replacement surgery that he believes was induced from playing football. Some of his other colleagues have it much worse.
Visger, for example, has undergone nine brain surgeries.
“He has yellow post it notes all over his house,” Cosbie said. “He’s an extremely smart person but he has no short-term memory.”
Cosbie said Visger, who lives in Sacramento, has been outspoken about head trauma for 30 years, but it wasn’t until the last two or three that people started listening to him.
Cosbie said some of the players interviewed for the project regret playing football.
“Some say yes, some say no,” Cosbie said. “I don’t know if I can answer it. It’s a tough question. Some jokingly said, ‘Ask me again in 10 years.’
“If you ask George, there’s no way. There’s not enough money or fame or fuzzy feelings or relationships that you go, ‘OK, I’ll have nine brain surgeries to experience that.’ There’s no way. Thank goodness he’s the exception and not the rule. But he’s not the only guy.”
Cosbie and Co. are currently trying to raise funds to complete their documentary, which has been an idea they’ve had for about two or three years but didn’t seriously work on until about 18 months ago. To kick start the production process, they’ve thrown in some own personal cash. They figure they need to gather about $250,000 to $300,000 to complete it, which Cosbie said is not a whole lot of money in the entertainment world.
“Probably Tom Cruise’s first day on the set,” he quipped.
The documentary isn’t meant to be an attack on the league or the players’ union.
“It’s just letting guys in their own words say this is what happened,” said Cosbie, who hopes the project will inform youth and their parents on what can happen from playing football.
The documentary could wind up being shown at film festivals, or even sold to a network.
The producers of “Konkussion Stories” decided to spell “concussion” wrong on purpose in their title, and they even flip the second “k” around to be backward.
“That was Jeff’s creative side going if you got concussed … you don’t know where you are or what direction you’re going,” said Cosbie, who worked in Hollywood for five years doing distribution and marketing at a production company. “If you’re asked to spell concussion or write it down, with a concussion, that’s a play on how you might write it. … It’s a satirical play on it.”
Reach Matthew Kimel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @matthewkimel