Greg Cote

Dolphins icon Larry Csonka tackles teammates’ health issues, football’s toll in new essay

Old Dolphins running mates Larry Csonka (left) and Jim Kiick in a portrait taken in 2002.
Old Dolphins running mates Larry Csonka (left) and Jim Kiick in a portrait taken in 2002. LarryCsonka.com

Miami Dolphins Hall of Famer and Perfect Season icon Larry Csonka shares thoughts on the health issues affecting former teammates Nick Buoniconti and Jim Kiick in a new essay on his personal website, LarryCsonka.com. The effects of brain trauma seen in so many aging former players prompted my latest column challenging the NFL to meet its moral obligation by doing more to help. Writes Csonka, now 70:

“[Last] Tuesday, my teammate, Nick Buoniconti, went public regarding his current health challenges in an article with Sports Illustrated online. Subsequently, stories have been published on my running mate, Jim Kiick, as well. I usually see my teammates at the Dolphins alumni event each year so I was aware of some issues with both men. However, I wasn’t aware of the extensive problems both have been dealing with, especially with Nick. Learning this, of course, saddens me a great deal. I’ve seen Jim the past few years at games. In fact, I was at a game last fall with both Jim and Mercury [Morris] and had a great visit. I always ask how his health is and how he’s doing with the rest of his life. We might discuss typical health issues a lot of us experience at our age but he always assures me that he’s, basically, doing fine in all aspects. When Jim and Mercury joined me in Alaska a few years ago to tape an episode for NFL Films, "A Football Life," I noticed Jim was grumpier than usual and worrying more about small details. That wasn’t like the Jim Kiick I knew and played along side of. When I asked him about it, he joked and said he liked being a grumpy old man! As the media has written, Jim is in an assisted living facility in South Florida. I’m glad he’s there. He needs part-time care. However, he’s not as bad off, at this point, as the media has depicted. At times he requires more attention than others but I know he and Mercury visit, go out for subs and hang out fairly often without any issues. Jim can still function in that capacity and enjoy life with his friends. What the future holds? We don’t know. Jim has been diagnosed with dementia/early onset Alzheimer’s and suspected CTE. After a multitude of testing, Nick’s exact diagnosis is still ongoing. Each are dealing with different challenges.”

The greatest players in Dolphins history were in attendance attendance as the team held a red-carpet gala as part of the team’s celebration of its 50th season at the Diplomat Resort and Spa in Hollywood, Fla., on Dec. 11, 2015. José A. Iglesias /

Csonka also address the sport of football and its toll.

“Football was a much more dangerous sport when we played than it is today,” he writes. “Unfortunately, many of us from that era are now paying the price. I’ve been lucky so far and count my blessings daily. However, I realize I have some of the same risk factors as others who played on the gridiron. I continue to exercise, eat right and take supplements for good brain health. I have several aches and pains but I, basically, feel good and try to maintain a positive outlook on my future. I believe football is a safer game now. On one hand, I don’t like how new rules have changed the game I knew and played but if the changes truly make the game safer, then it’s worth it! I’ve always maintained (and sometimes with great controversy) kids shouldn’t play tackle football until junior high for a few reasons. In many cases, they are not well coached and, more importantly, not properly equipped. A child running around on a Pop Warner field with a sloppy helmet isn’t cute to me … it’s an outrage! Also, recent research points to young brains being at the highest risk of lasting effects from trauma. Young, developing brains cannot withstand that kind of hit without some repercussions sometime in their life (according to research I’ve read).”

Csonka concludes with, “Jim and Nick are great friends of mine. Even though we only occasionally see each other, I think of them and my other teammates often. We shared a unique bond for an extraordinary period of time in our lives and still share in the historic success of our team. I hope better times come for both of them and I look forward to another visit this fall."

He signs the short essay with his familiar nickname:

--Zonk

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