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Jimmy Giles, Here's to All the Great Memories, and the Pain

Tony SarnoffContributor IIJune 29, 2012

Jimmie Giles in 2011
Jimmie Giles in 2011Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

And now Jimmie Giles. 

He’s among the latest players to file a concussion-related suit against the NFL, and the first to name all his former teams as defendants.  Giles, 58, is best known for his years with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 

The complaint reads, in part, "The Tampa Bay Buccaneers should have been aware of the players' limitations and previous injuries….and should have prohibited the plaintiffs from reentering a game or practice where physical contact was taking place, after sustaining a concussion."

And so you might say: "Well, of course, but no one knew the real damage done by concussions in 1977, when Giles entered the league." He was drafted in the third round, the 70th pick overall.  

Or did the league know, or the equipment manufacturers?  Or should they have known?  We shall see. 

But who is Jimmie Giles?

Giles was born in Natchez, Mississippi and went to Alcorn State. In 1977, he joined the NFL where he played a year with Houston then nine seasons with Tampa Bay, two with Detroit and three more with Philadelphia.  He was a tall, strapping tight end No. 88, who caught 350 balls for 5,000 yards and 41 touchdowns.

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He stopped playing in 1989 and eventually became a financial planner.

In 1999, according to online records, he and his wife, Vivian, bought a five-bedroom house in a Tampa suburb in a largely upper middle class, white neighborhood called Citrus Park. They paid $283,400 in 1999.  The neighborhood’s average income these days is $96,594.

After he retired, Giles’ health declined.  He gained 100 pounds over his playing weight and would tell a New York Daily News reporter in December, 2009 that he was receiving 5 epidural injections a year, had no feeling in one leg, needed a breathing device to help him sleep and seemed to be losing his memory.  

His wife, Vivian, was also in ill-health, suffering from breast cancer.    

He said at the time he regretted not choosing to accept an offer from Sears in a management-training program after college.  "I should've taken it. I'd be a lot better off than I am now."

A year later, in December 2010, their house went into foreclosure and was sold for $100.

Giles told the press that year, "All of the sudden, one day, man, I couldn't remember where in the heck I was. I had to give that business up because it required a lot of thinking. I'm dealing with people … and their lives and fortunes."

In December 2011, Giles was inducted into the Buccaneers Ring of Honor.  At the ceremony he appeared joyless for such an occasion. He made a few remarks thanking his wife and three children, and that was it. 

After he finished, the stadium was filled with “Ain't No Mountain High Enough.”

You wonder how many young players now read his story and weigh the future.  Not many.

In May, you may remember the Oxford style debate on the issue of whether to ban college football.  The debate was largely tied to whether higher education should pay for, and be dependent upon a sport that destroys brains rather develops them.  Among the debaters was ESPN columnist Jason Whitlock who made the point that football is in our capitalist blood:

Capitalism is our economic system.  The thing we value the most is freedom.  We're American and if you believe in freedom, you can't have the free without the dumb.  You can't have it.  They go hand in hand.  Freedom allows you to do dumb things, things we find reprehensible.

And I would agree, you can put football right in there with cigarettes, alcohol, porn, everything else, things that we tolerate and enjoy here in America, but you cannot separate them.  And everything in America is connected to freedom and to capitalism and to democracy…. We let capitalism exploit everything whether we like it or not.  And so football has to be tolerated no different than Ronald McDonald.

It’s an awkwardly told truth: that freedom justifies the end, that even if a sport is flawed—maybe badly flawed. It doesn’t matter because that’s the price we pay for choice and a free-market economy.  That’s who we are, and you can’t get away from it. 

So why change it? 

Why?  Because as a society, it’s also true that we’re beginning to outgrow the notion that football players are nothing more than entertainment widgets—simultaneously heroes and traitors, quickly forgotten—and if football is on a par with cigarettes and porn, that’s just not acceptable. 

Incidentally, Jimmie Giles was a four-time Pro Bowler. While in Tampa Bay he once caught four touchdowns in a game against Miami.  Look at the film, and you see he moved like a bulldozer after the catch, and yet had the soft hands you find in a great receiver.

On EBAY, you can buy a couple of “auto-signed photos” of Jimmie for $11.99.

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