Miami Dolphins

Dolphins’ Buoniconti calls NFL’s $1 billion concussion settlement ‘a joke’ in new report

Emilio Estefan, Marc Buoniconti and Nick Buoniconti screen “Unbreakable Bond,” a film by Estefan that chronicles the relationship between Nick and Marc in this 2014 file photo.
Emilio Estefan, Marc Buoniconti and Nick Buoniconti screen “Unbreakable Bond,” a film by Estefan that chronicles the relationship between Nick and Marc in this 2014 file photo. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

Nick Buoniconti, who in a new Sports Illustrated story details his declining mental health in excruciating detail, is one of 20,000 former NFL players eligible for benefits under the league’s $1 billion concussion settlement.

But each player in need’s slice of that pie is too small, and the system makes it way too difficult for those who deserve the money to get it, the Dolphins’ Hall of Famer says.

“The NFL should be volunteering to pay for this,” Buoniconti shouted at an doctor’s appointment at UCLA, according to SI. “I’m so [expletive] pissed off at them!”

He continued: “We’re the players who built the game, but have been forgotten. The settlement is a joke; the way it was structured is a joke. They are waiting for us to die. They’re going to play the clock out until everybody dies.”

Buoniconti’s brain functionality has deteriorated noticeably in recent years, and doctors believe it could be the result of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, more commonly known as CTE. Repeated head trauma found in football is a cause of the degenerative brain disease, doctors have found.

Tests have revealed that Buoniconti’s brain has atrophied on its the right side, Sports Illustrated reports, and doctors believe it is due to abnormal amounts of tau proteins, which is often caused by head trauma, kills brain cells and is associated with CTE. The condition is irreversible, and has ruined the lives of many former football players.

He’s had symptoms of CTE; Buoniconti has suffered falls, memory loss, confusion and often has trouble putting on his own shirt.

A definite diagnosis of CTE is not possible until an autopsy is performed after death.

“He’s frustrated and depressed,” son Marc told the magazine. “He’s lost in his own physical disability and there’s no break from it. He’s sitting at his house; he has no outlets. He falls down, and that conversation only exacerbates it. That’s his life, man — a vicious cycle.”

Marc Buoniconti has been paralyzed from the neck down for nearly three decades because of a football injury he suffered at the Citidel. His father was always his rock; now the disabled son is Nick’s support system.

“I don't think it's safe,” Marc Buoniconti said. “I cannot recommend football for, really, anybody. I was 50-50 on this already but, then, watching my dad — that sealed it for me.”

Nick Buoniconti, 76, is also dealing with another major health issue: he was diagnosed with prostate cancer early last year, according to the report. The news gets worse for the family; his caregiver is wife Lynn, but she’s battled breast cancer while watching her husband fall apart mentally.

Buoniconti played linebacker in the NFL for 14 years, half of which with the Dolphins, and appeared in three straight Super Bowls. During that time, he estimates that he absorbed a whopping 520,000 hits.

The worst of which came in the Dolphins’ loss to the Cowboys in Super Bowl VI.

In the second half of the Dolphins’ loss, he blacked out after drilling a Cowboys player. He remained in the game, but doesn’t remember anything after the hit.

“I was gone,” he told the magazine. “That was the worst one. I don’t remember playing.”

Buoniconti added that he was knocked unconscious four or five times in his NFL career.

“It’s not fair that you make the league all this money, and they don’t care about you anymore,” he added. “You think they care about a player who no longer can contribute to their financial success? Come on.”

Adam H. Beasley: 305-376-3565, @AdamHBeasley

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