The XX Factor

The Woman Speaking Up for Injured NFL Players

Congressional committee hearings are usually the domain of dark-suited men speaking in carefully-modulated tones. So Gay Culverhouse , who showed up to a House Judiciary Committee meeting in an unapologetically purple suit and spoke with both intelligence and anger, was startling. Culverhouse, a former president of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, wasn’t a breath of fresh air; she was a bracing gust of wind as she outlined the ways in which (in her view) the NFL abuses and then abandons its players.

While seated next to a current NFL doctor at the witness table, Culverhouse delivered a withering assessment of the role that team doctors play in keeping their players off the injured list:

One of the things you as a committee need to understand very clearly is the fact that the team doctor is hired by the coaches and paid by the front office. This team doctor is not an advocate for the players. This team doctor’s role is to get that player back on the field, even if that means injecting the player on the field . I have seen a wall of players surround a player and seen his knees injected, seen his hip injected between plays, and him [put] back on the field. This is inexcusable. … The team doctor dresses as a coach on the sidelines, and he acts in many ways as a coach on the sidelines. He is not an independent advocate for the player. If a player chooses independent medical counsel, he is considered to be not a team player. He becomes a pariah to the team. We’ve got to stop that.

During the question-and-answer portion of the hearing, Culverhouse was asked how it makes her feel to see former Buccaneers suffering the effects of their football careers. Instead of talking about how she feels, Culverhouse described what she does:

This morning as I was coming over here, [an injured former player] said, “Gay, you’ve always been a rebel. But you’re a rebel with a cause. Make them hear that we’re hurt. Make them hear that we can’t fill out all of their forms. We can’t do it. Our mental capacity isn’t there to answer the questions on the phone and fill out the forms. They’re missing those of us that are severely disabled.” And so what I’m doing is I’m filling out the forms. I’m going through the networks for them to access the benefits that they may be entitled to … I’m going to Little Rock, Ark. to find [former Buccaneer] Jerry Eckwood and take him to the doctors myself and fill out the forms and get this man the help he needs. I don’t want to read about another one of my players is dead. I don’t want to tell my children their favorite gentle giant is dead. This isn’t working for me.

Photograph of Gay Culverhouse testifying before House Judiciary Committee by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.