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Marvin Cobb, Steelers Safety, 1980 and Independent Retired Players Summit Director

May 31, 2012
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Marvin Cobb:

First, can you let readers know about the Independent Retired Players Summit and your work with retired NFL players in general? What is the mission of the summit and how did you get involved?

I became involved in advocating for better pensions and medical benefits for pre-1993 retired football players about five years ago after reading more and more stories of players committing suicide, being homeless, struggling to make ends meet, etc. 

It turns out there’s enough money in the NFL to provide a measure of dignity to all who played the game, and that is the mission of The Summit.  We are aiming to educate and motivate as many retired players as possible to join the advocacy movement for better pensions and access to our disability benefits.

There is so much discussion today on the support and benefits that former players do (and don’t) receive from the NFL, especially compared to MLB and other sports. What is it you would most like to see done for retired players, and why?

Truthfully, my biggest desire is for a change in the pension plan so that each vested man would have a vote in selecting the three “player representatives” on the pension board.  Currently, we have no say in how our pension is managed and distributed, and we feel the NFLPA has not done an adequate job of representing the pre-1993 retirees.

Do you see the NFL or the NFLPA as most responsible for delivering that change, and how so? And how are you currently working with those organizations? 

I believe that on most issues, the NFL and the NFLPA are partners, so they both are responsible in many respects.  However, the NFLPA has claimed to represent retired players, and many of us have relied on that claim to our detriment, so I don’t really have an answer to your question.

What are your thoughts on the various lawsuits against the NFL by players? How could this have all been avoided and what overall impact do you see them having on both retired and active players?

CTE is a very serious issue, and the NFL, like the tobacco companies denying the connection between smoking and lung cancer, have been downplaying the connection between repeated brain trauma and late appearing symptoms of neurological diseases for years. I believe the best aspect of the various lawsuits is the resulting information about brain damage that can now be used to protect our young players, and help explain the various challenges many of our older retired players are now experiencing. 

What do you say to those who say that NFL players “Knew the risks”? And what misperceptions do you need to dispel to both players and fans to get your message more clearly heard? 

I say this…many of us have seen a human skull before, in a museum or at Halloween, and we assume the inside of the skull is smooth on the inside as it is on the outside.  On the contrary, the inside of the human skull has pronounced ridges, and since the brain is not anchored down inside the skull, when your body is moving at a high rate of speed and suddenly comes to an abrupt stop, your brain will bang up against the ridges inside your skull and cause brain trauma and injury.

Examples are Shaken Baby Syndrome and the fact that rear ended car accident victims can have brain damage without making contact with the steering wheel.   Simply put, THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A HELMET THAT CAN PROTECT YOUR BRAIN!  The tackling technique I was taught was to “put your face between his numbers!”  This coaching technique was obviously not the best.
 
How do you get fans more involved in the battle for better retired player benefits? It would seem to be important to do so, from a leverage standpoint. Is that accurate?

Not necessarily.  Most fans don’t realize or care to understand the great disparity between today’s NFL salaries and my six season average salary of $50,000/year.  They also don’t realize that unless the NFL steps up to its responsibility to retired players, most of the medical costs we incur trying to manage our pain and other ailments resulting from football will fall on the taxpayers.
 
You played for Cincinnati for five years before finding yourself in Pittsburgh, What brought you to Pittsburgh in 1980 and how much grief did the Steelers players give you, having played for a division rival?

The Steeler fans gave me much more grief than the players.  I was released by the Bengals, just prior to John Stallworth breaking his leg and opening up a roster spot.  I had always played well against the Steelers, primarily because playing against my college teammate and friend, Lynn Swann always inspired me.  Unfortunately, on a kickoff return in my first game as a Steeler, I was tackled awkwardly and fell on the ball, badly bruising my ribs.  By the time, my rib healed, so had John Stallworth’s leg and I was released. 

I read in the paper that some fans thought the Steelers losing streak in 1980 was my fault as I was the only “outsider” on the team…oh well.

What do you remember most about the games/rivalry between the two teams and how did those Bengals teams view the Steelers then?

Because the Steelers were the dominant team in the league, not just our division, we always treated the game as most important.  And as I mentioned, I had a personal rivalry going on with my buddy, Lynn so the Steeler game was always a big deal to me.

Who were the players that helped you adjust most to “life as a Steeler” – both on and off the field – and how did they do so?

Lynn let me stay at his place while I was on the team, and showed me the ropes in Pittsburgh.

What are your best memories as an NFL player/Steeler, and what makes them so? 

My best memories as a Bengal are games against our division rivals like the Steelers, Oilers, and Browns.  Playing against great players like Lynn, Franco Harris, Earl Campbell, Ozzie Newsome and others was really exciting. Of course, I remember fondly my only NFL touchdown against the Raiders…a 56 yard interception return off of Kenny Stabler throwing to Cliff Branch…sweet.

What do you think of the NFL’s new rule changes regarding both player safety and those stressing the passing game? Do they make the game better or worse for players – and fans? 

As a former defensive back, I am always concerned when the rules change to stress the passing game…as if the receiver and  quarterback don’t have enough of an advantage just knowing the pass route.  As for player safety rule changes, it’s about time.

Any last thoughts for readers? 

I still root for the Bengals…hah!

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