Nightly News   |  December 17, 2013

Wives of injured NFL players: ‘We can’t afford our medical bills’

Lawyers on both sides are finalizing details of a settlement which compensates former players and funds medical research. Players who developed debilitating brain injuries after spending a short time in the NFL may not receive as much as those who were injured after playing for a longer period of time.  NBC’s Stephanie Gosk reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> we're back with more tonight on this increased awareness of the concussion crisis in organized sports. last night we reported on the first major league baseball player found to have this same degenerative brain disease that's been discovered in the brains of several former nfl players. now the nfl and the nih have announced plans to work together to learn more about all of this, and in the meantime it's the families, most often the wives of veteran nfl players who are left to carry the ball and keep life going. our report again tonight from nbc's stephanie gosk.

>> reporter: they played for the teams fan know and love, but these names may not sound familiar.

>> my husband is henry bradley , number 91, for the cleveland browns .

>> nick bell , played for the los angeles raiders .

>> fred mcneill , the minnesota vikings .

>> reporter: wives of nfl players who retired in the late '80s and '90s. the stories they share sound very similar, memory loss.

>> people that were in our wedding, people that --

>> reporter: people that were in your wedding.

>> right.

>> reporter: and he doesn't remember them.

>> no.

>> reporter: quick tempers.

>> the mood changes scared me.

>> reporter: and depression.

>> i can't leave him at all because i'm so afraid that he's going to hurt himself.

>> reporter: at age 60 henry bradley struggles just to get down the stairs. he wears the scars of five years as a professional defensive tackle. the knees hurt when you get up and down?

>> oh, yes.

>> reporter: what else hurts?

>> shoulder, back.

>> reporter: brain injury is less visible. in the 2010 report bradley's doctor dgd post-traumatic head syndrome and blamed it on cumulative trauma while playing professional football .

>> when the brain is not working, you're done, and that is the most scary part for me.

>> reporter: each of their husbands is part of a lawsuit that the nfl settled for $765 million last august. the league was accused of hiding the health risks of repeated concussions which it denies. lawyers on both sides are finalizing details of the settlement which compensates players and funds medical research . even with the settlement, these wives still worry. these players never made the big bucks .

>> i'm worried about the long term. we can't afford the medical pills right now.

>> reporter: this pittsburgh lawyer filed the original lawsuit.

>> the saddest calls for me are every time a wife calls, because i know that there's nothing that i can offer them.

>> reporter: espn reports some retired players may be cut out, and a law firm wrote this letter to its clients, suggesting there may be less money for players diagnosed after age 45 or for those who played five years or less. the nfl would not comment on the ongoing negotiations, but the commissioner has said this is the best deal for both sides. the wives believe the lawsuit is about much more than just money.

>> we're here to help our husbands and families, but i have hopes that this can also help other --

>> the players that retire after that, you know. hopefully they will have an easier time on it

>> reporter: future of their families and possibly the league itself depends on it. stephanie gosk, nbc news, los angeles .