“She Was Truly On Our Side”

July 5th, 2020

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NFL players past and present owe a great debt of gratitude to the late Gay Culverhouse.

The daughter of former Bucs owner Hugh Culverhouse was a driving force

on the NFL’s concussion issue a decade ago, when the league was still trying to defend itself from mounting evidence that severe head injuries were rampant in the sport.

When Gay Culverhouse passed away this week at the age of 73, she left a lasting legacy.

“She seemed to care for the players and she put her money where her mouth was,” Jimmie Giles told me on Friday. “I was proud of the fact she stepped up. Our condolences to her family.”

In the fall of 2009, dozens of former Tampa Bay players gathered at Raymond James Stadium for a halftime celebration of the 30th anniversary of the franchise’s magical 1979 season and Lee Roy Selmon’s induction into the team’s Ring of Honor.

But this time around, few could run through the tunnel. Some hobbled, one needed a cane.to walk to midfield.

Only in their 50s, their medical histories revealed bad knees, chronic back aches, arthritis and signs of cognitive impairment, according to a Tampa Tribune survey of the 46 living members of the ’79 team.

“The worst thing about it all is that we’re all taught to be gladiators and that we don’t even admit it if we get dinged,” said hard-hitting safety Mark Cotney. “You don’t want to admit that to anybody, or it’s like you’re being a sissy. You know, suck it up and get back out there for the team, man.”

According to the Tribune survey, 83 percent of respondents were dealing with chronic arthritis, swelling of joints and muscle pain and 63 percent had serious back pain. Most significantly, 54 percent suffered from depression, mood swings or forgetfulness.

At the time, retired NFL players were desperate for help … Gay Culverhouse answered the call.

Health Activist

She was touched by the tragic death of Tom McHale, a Bucs offensive lineman during her time in the Buc front office as team president. When McHale died of a drug overdose in May, 2008 at the age of 45, he was found to have chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease linked to repeated head hits.

“A Different Light,” explained Buccaneers Ring of Honor tight end Jimmie Giles.

“Gay showed a different light from her father,” Giles said. “She was open to guys calling her with their problems, or even just to vent. We knew she had a pipeline to the hierarchy of the league.”

In 2010, Gay Culverhouse organized a series of meetings in Tampa to discuss the health issues of former players. Doug Williams showed up, along with Giles, David Lewis and Ricky Reynolds.

“Without you, there would be no National Football League as we know it today,” Culverhouse said. “It’s only fair that we find a way to give back to all the retired players who now have needs.”

The league acknowledged the leadership Culverhouse exhibited in her quest for fairness.

“Part of our challenge has been locating the retired players who need help — Gay Culverhouse’s effort to help them is admirable,” the NFL said, referring to her Players Outreach Program.

She used her own money to help fund that initiative.

“Football’s the only job where you can guarantee 100 percent that there will be an injury,” said Culverhouse, who testified at the House Judiciary hearing on head injuries in 2009. “I’m trying to get the players the information they need.”

In selflessly addressing the health and financial problems of former players, Gay Culverhouse stood in stark contrast to her father, the original owner of the franchise.

Hugh Culverhouse, who died in 1994, had developed a reputation for frugality and an indifference to player concerns.

“You have to remember that Gay was a lone voice at that time,” Giles said. “It was like she had an epiphany. She was truly on our side. I looked at her as a very decent person who I had a lot of respect for. She was genuine in her thoughts and in her deeds.”

Enjoy Mike Alstott’s June interview on the Ira Kaufman Podcast.

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Ira Kaufman’s column is presented by Bill Currie Ford. Click on Ira to visit BillCurrieFord.com. GM Sean Sullivan will help you personally in every way he can. Superior service and body shops, too. Joe has used both!

8 Responses to ““She Was Truly On Our Side””

  1. Jim Says:

    Great story, Ira…maybe your best!

  2. David Wayne Kayser Says:

    Gay was a pioneer in helping players that needed it as the NFL turned a blind eye to their needs. Such a stark contrast to her father who was only in it for the dollar. Our family watched a lot of bad football in the Ole Sombrero back in the day. Condolences to the family.

  3. bojim Says:

    RIP Gay. 🙂

  4. Mike Johnson Says:

    Luv the article here Ira. People tend to forget the toll football takes on people. Even at the HS and collegiate level. I only played 2 yrs of college ball and had to call it quits because of a foot injury. Even today in my fifties, I have severe foot arthritis. So bad I have to get intense monthly treatments involving needles, PT and drugs. So you know what these guys go thru after their playing days in the NFL are over. I’m always for more financial and medical benefits for them. RIP Mrs. Culverhouse.


  5. DeathWalker40 Says:

    A truly powerful article for a truly powerful human being. R.I.P. Gay and kudos for JoeBucsFan for maybe showing some people knowledge that they didn’t know existed in the Tamp Bay Organization.

  6. Buczilla Says:

    Awesome article.

  7. Imon Says:

    Great job, well done, Ira.

  8. unbelievable Says:

    Cool story Ira, thanks.

    I never really knew anything about the daughter.