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Brandi Winans: Our 16-Year Struggle for NFL Disability

brandi winansSeptember 6, 2019
Brandi Winans

There are many parallels between our stories; those of my husband Jeff and Charles Dimry reflect on so many other stories. On the battlefield of the NFL and its former players.

As I read Charles’ story, it brought back all of the haunting memories of the 16 years We fought to get my husband Jeff’s Disability.

Jeff Winans

Jeff Winans when he played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 1977-1978

Jeff played for Buffalo, Tampa and the Raiders from 1973-1980. Along the way, he suffered multiple injuries: Torn ACL, Torn MCL, Multiple Neck and lower back injuries, a broken foot, and crushed ankles. He also suffered from repeated hits to the head and at 30 years old, it was the last job he would ever have.

We did what everyone is supposed to do: Call your Players’ Rep and file for help. Our player rep sent us to a lawyer in Oakland who was supposed to help us file for Total and Permanent Disability (T & P).  He told us we had to file for Line of Duty first and then file for T & P.

Upon filing, we were told that we had to be sent to an NFL Neutral Physician for an evaluation, but at that time there was no one they could send us to in the San Francisco Bay area, so we would have to wait.

In the meantime, Jeff went into a deep depression, so deep that he tried to commit suicide. He would look at me and say,” Brandi they always said they would take care of their own. Why can’t they help me?” I turned to the attorney the rep has sent us to and he set us up with a psychologist in Oakland an hour and a half away from Modesto where we were living.

The NFL told us once Jeff was deemed disabled they would pay for Dr. Berg’s fees. Jeff was comfortable with him for a while, but the drive to see him became too much for him and he had to stop. By that time we had over $10,000 owed to him. We were paying what we could, and soon our savings was gone.

I became the sole support of our family it killed him that he could not provide for us. My job took me out of town, and I worried constantly, especially when he didn’t answer the phone (no cell phones then).

He would spend most of his day on the floor with pillows under his knees. Our family doctor would give him pain medication to help, but the pain inside his head soon turned to anger and disappointment.

A year later, in 1982, we were notified that there was a neutral physician available in our area. We were excited to see him because we knew Jeff was disabled and once deemed that, his Line of Duty (LOD) would start. ($870.00 per month) We were shocked when the doctor denied it and said those famous words, “You can do sedentary work”.

Jeff and I were devastated. He couldn’t face his parents (too much pride) and he felt he had let everyone down. We appealed to the board and were denied again. I was determined to fight. I told him, we must, not just for us but for other players.

In 1983, we were denied again and I asked for the minutes (which were public records). The records stated, “Let’s end this and send him to arbitration.”

If we agreed and we did, it meant that if we lost, we could not reapply. We knew it and knew he was disabled. I asked for another attorney to represent us and to our surprise, we were given Alan Page who was now an attorney.

Alan was brilliant and we won the arbitration in July 1984 for T&P. The other attorney had not filed for T&P, which was supposed to be filed together with LOD, so we had to finish Line of Duty. (Side note: I had filed for Social Security a few years before and we were denied. I appealed and waited 18 months for a Social Security Judge to be in Modesto to plead our case in person.)

A few days after the arbitration, I was in front of the SSI Judge, representing Jeff and took in 56 exhibits showing his disabilities. The judge said he would review and was shocked I was there fighting for my husband. WE COULD NOT AFFORD AN ATTORNEY.

Jeff’s Line of Duty started and four months later we were moving into another house. Jeff grabbed some clothes from the closet not realizing he had placed a 357 Derringer in between a couple of pair of jeans.  As he got to the foyer, the gun fell and discharged. It hit him just below the right knee cap. The armor-piercing bullet hit the bone and took his lower leg out. He was home alone, grabbed the clothes he was carrying to make a tourniquet and called 911.

Three days after the accident, we had a blessing, I found out that I was pregnant with our only son. I think it was the only thing that kept him alive.

Fast forward to the present: Brandi and Jeff’s son, Travis, with his wife and daughter.

Jeff lived in and of the hospital during most of my pregnancy. He came home two months before Travis was born. After Travis’ birth, we got a notice from the NFL that he had to go see another neutral physician to continue his disability. We were shocked as we had won in arbitration and thought it was final. The NFL said it was required so Jeff went. We were shocked, in 1985, when the “neutral” physician, stated that Jeff was no longer disabled from football, but the gunshot accident and they pulled his Line of Duty. We were devastated.  All the shame he felt before, letting everyone down came back, and hurt and anger set in. I told him  I was going to appeal and he said “F” them Brandi, you can’t win, no one can.” I said, “We can’t give up now. This is what they want.”

I remembered the letters I had sent to Good Morning America, 60 Minutes and Geraldo Rivera, in 1983 asking for help, telling them what the NFL was doing, and not one of them would help. I kept appealing and kept getting denied.  Another “neutral” physician, etc. By now I was seeing more of Jeff’s neurocognitive problems coming to light too.

In 1988, I called one of the benefit gals at the NFL Benefits office to plead my case. Why are we having to go thru this when we won in arbitration? She said there were only seven players who had ever qualified for T&P. The only way she had seen it happen in one case, was when that player went back to the same neutral physician he had seen before. The doctor had seen the deterioration and granted the disability.

The next day, talking to someone else, I requested that Jeff be sent to Dr. John Becker. Jeff had seen him a few years before and he was still one of the doctors the NFL used. They agreed. Upon Dr. Becker seeing Jeff and reviewing his medical reports he said that Jeff was now totally disabled from football. We thought, “Praise God! They can’t deny him now.”

At the end of 1988, the letter came and we were told that because of the gunshot accident, that Jeff would only qualify for non-football disability, which was $870.00 a month plus $100 for our son and he would still have to go to the Annual NFL Neutral Physician each year to re-qualify.

Everything we had been thru, arbitration, bankruptcy in 1987, etc. seemed like it was for nothing. At this point, I did not have any more fight in me.

We moved back to my hometown in Florida. Jeff couldn’t face his family and friends in California. He had been an All-American in basketball track and football; a USC Standout.  He was picked up by the Buffalo Bills as a second round draft pick.  Now he was a broken man physically and emotionally. The only thing keeping us going was our son, Travis.

We managed to stay afloat with his small pension and my salary. In 1996, I was looking at his benefit books (which he had kept from me) and I saw a new disability category called Degenerative Disc Football.

All of Jeff’s medical records showed among the injuries that he had degenerative disc disease, football related. I showed Jeff and he said, “Yes I saw it.” I said we need to get you reclassified. He looked at me like I was crazy. I didn’t care. I wrote asking them to reclassify us to Degenerative Disc, and asked that it be retroactive and that I be allowed to attend the Board meeting.

The NFL came back a few weeks later and said anything I wanted to say to each Board member should be put into writing. I put together a formal letter addressed to each one and attached all of our records.

We were tabled the first board meeting saying they were adding a seventh board member (a neutral physician). I felt that would be beneficial as he could interpret Jeff’s records.

The next Board meeting said we were tabled again and now they wanted to send Jeff to New Jersey and wanted us to pay for trip. If Jeff was disabled they would reimburse us. Yeah, right? That didn’t work before; we had to add Dr. Berg’s bills into our bankruptcy.

I told them we were a hardship case and if they wanted to send him all the way to New Jersey and not local, they could pay for it. They agreed and paid for the trip.  A few weeks later he went to see Dr. Tria. There were two other players that Jeff knew in his office.

Dr. Tria seemed in tune with Jeff’s injuries and Jeff felt it went well. At the next Board meeting we were tabled again. This time they wanted Jeff to see an NFL neurosurgeon and Jeff accommodated them..Then we were tabled again, and they asked to see a letter from Social Security Disability stating that Jeff was disabled (We won that the end of 1985) along with our last 5 years of tax returns. Jeff was furious and told me to tell them, “Go F themselves,” and that I was wasting my time fighting for us anymore.

I went forward requesting everything, but we didn’t receive the Social Security paperwork in time for the next Board meeting. They said it must have gotten lost in the mail. Yeah right?

I was so glad that I had kept our records. Finally, our paperwork arrived, and we were put on the docket in October 1997. In November 1997, we got the letter saying were approved for re-classification for degenerative disc category.

Jeff and Brandi Winans

Jeff and Brandi Winans

For the first time in 16 years, we would not have to struggle to make ends meet! We sat on the edge of our bed and cried. Jeff looked at me and said, “Brandi, I don’t want you working for a while,”. We felt a new beginning, although he would still have to see a neutral physician every year, but no one could deny the degenerative disease from football in his upper neck and lower spine, which added up to 3 more surgeries, titanium in his lower back and an amputation to his right leg below the knee.  Jeff continued to have more and more neurocognitive problems and passed away from Stage 3 CTE in December 2012.

(Fast forward to the present, and they have eliminated the annual physical as well as the degenerative disc category Jeff qualified for.)

After Jeff’s unexpected death, I filed a death with CTE claim in the Concussion Settlement and went through three appeals, be for an award was finally approved.

The Flip Side of Glory There’s something I’d like to say to any retired players who may read this, “Let your family help.”  My Jeff’s emotions ran too deep. You have to look at everything together and fight as a Team.”

To the Families: “You have to stand tall; you can’t give up. The future of your family depends on it. Be patient. Learn everything you can about your case. Ask questions, appeal as many times as you must. Together we are One.

I wrote a book called The Flip Side of Glory. Only about one-tenth of what we went thru is in the book. Tell your story.  Click here to find it on Amazon.com.


Editor’s Note: I spoke with Brandi shortly after publishing our article on Charles Dimry’s latest disability struggle and she commented that it reminded her of the struggle she and Jeff endured.  I asked her if she would share her story for our readers and she graciously agreed.  As Brandi said, “Tell your story.”  After receiving her manuscript and emailing to thank her, the dialog went something like this:

We have to keep telling the stories.  People have short attention spans in this day of social media and just as every mass killing starts a new conversation about gun violence, the plight of so many retired NFLers and their families also needs to be seen over and over again until the carnage is more than people are willing to tolerate any longer.  I don’t know how many stories it will take, but eventually, one will be the “one too many” that sparks change.  Though I’ve come to know many wonderful retired NFL players and members of their families over the past three years, I had no personal connection with the NFL when I started writing.  I heard one story too many and knew that I had to do my part.  You can too! If you’re a player or the family member of a player, don’t bottle it up and keep it inside.  You have no reason to be embarrassed in telling your story—it’s the league that should be embarrassed for tormenting their disposable workforce.  If you’re like I was, a fan with no personal connection to the NFL, join the community.  If stories like this tug at your heartstrings don’t just read them and shake your head.  Share them.  Post them to social media.  Email them to your football-loving friends.  Chose to be a catalyst for change.  As Brandi said, “Together we are One.”


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Brandi Winans
Brandi Winans

As the wife of a former NFL player for over 30 years, she knows first-hand what it takes to keep the "Family" unit together by redefining the "Playbook to include the family". Working with former players and families since 2008, she recently Founded Pro-Athletes Transition, LLC., expanding to High School/College athletes and now dedicates her life to help others (Faith-based or Secular). Brandi has a way of empowering and inspiring others from speaking on her Memoir, "The Flip SIde Of Glory" to her motivating, fun-filled Seminars and Workshops. She has created and developed a broad variety of programs, workshops and seminars including: The Family Toolbox, Re-Program You Series, The Stepping Stones OF Life, The Wanna Be Seminars and various outreach programs for current and former Professional Athletes and their families including "Re-Define Your Playbook".

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