A former National Football League player is in Columbus this week paying the price for his former glory.
Randy Grimes, a center with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 1983-92, received a successful full knee replacement Friday at Baptist Memorial Hospital-Golden Triangle. He didn”t pay the bill for the surgery, but not as special treatment due to his old job.
Grimes has no medical insurance. And if it weren”t for PAST — Pain Alternatives Solutions and Treatment Retired Football Players Pain Management and Medical Resource Group — and Baptist”s charity care program, he”d be stuck with much more than a bad knee.
Like many former NFL players, Grimes has a problem with painkillers. He began taking them while he was in the league and never stopped.
“It was something we used to get out and play,” Grimes said. “You did whatever it took.”
After leaving the NFL in 1992, Grimes” old injuries kept him on painkillers and, as his knee got worse, his tolerance for the pills rose. That led to the need for more pills, which led to multiple prescriptions from multiple doctors. Then it really got bad.
“There was a time when I was taking up to 30 percocets a day. And that wasn”t even doing the trick,” he said.
Even after his friend and former teammate Tom McHale overdosed and died on painkillers in May of 2008, Grimes” problem continued. He didn”t have any insurance to get his knee fixed, and he couldn”t bear the pain without the pills.
His addiction soon cost him a job as a salesman for a brick manufacturing company in Houston, Texas.
Then he found PAST, an organization founded to help former players like Grimes.
“He was turned down for disability (by the NFL Players Association),” explains Jennifer Smith, player advocate for PAST. “The only form of pain management he could afford was painkillers and over 10 years it almost killed him.”
Before his knee was addressed, PAST got Grimes into rehab through the Behavioral Health of Palm Beach in Florida.
He went through a month of detoxification before coming to Columbus to get his knee replaced.
Grimes was under the care of Dr. Rusty Linton who, in addition to being one of the country”s foremost orthopedic surgeons and head of orthopedics at BMH-GT, is the team physician for Mississippi State University”s football team. Coincidentally, Linton was presented with the Southeastern Conference Physician of the Year Award Saturday.
Grimes” case came to Linton”s attention through former MSU football coach Jackie Sherrill.
“I was standing at football practice a few weeks ago. Jackie knew Wednesday was my day to be there and had a trainer hand me the phone,” Linton said. “I was not the only doctor they were in contact with. And they had to have a hospital willing to donate things. … We were lucky to have that network that was willing to go to bat.”
That was a stroke of luck for Grimes, considering the condition of his knee and the necessary surgery was so complicated several surgeons declined the procedure.
“It”s not one of the worst knees (Linton) has ever seen. But it”s up there,” said Grimes.
After Linton agreed to see Grimes, the former 47th overall pick in the 1983 NFL draft had to apply for BMH-GT”s charity program, which has given away more than $800 million in services since it began in 1993.
“That”s the ugly side of football people don”t see,” said Grimes. “They see the Sundays and how great it is and how much money everyone is making. Well, they weren”t making that much money back in 1992 when I got out.”
Grimes holds the NFL Players Association responsible for not spending funds he says it holds for player insurance and disability. The NFLPA turned down his request for disability, he said.
“The union has left us out to dry. They do not have anything in place for injuries that come up 10 years after you quit playing,” Grimes continued. “As a matter of fact, they won”t even acknowledge that your injuries are football related when, obviously, they are.”
Grimes has gone public with his story for a number of reasons — to alert other former NFL players in similar situations of PAST, to break the stigma associated with seeking treatment for painkiller addiction and to expose the NFLPA”s policies.
Grimes admits he feels bitterness toward the NFL for his situation, but he also admits he”d do it again.
“Absolutely, I”d do every bit of it again. I love football,” he said.
Smith has worked with thousands of players through PAST and has yet to find one who would trade his playing days to avoid injuries.
Between rehab and knee surgery, Grimes has received close to $100,000 in pro bono services. He”ll return to rehab after a five-day stay in Columbus for the surgery where he”ll resume chronicling his recovery from addiction on his Facebook page.
“It wasn”t easy for me to go public with this, but I feel an obligation to pay something forward,” said Grimes.
Part of his recovery process from the surgery will include returning to pain medication.
“I think my tolerance is still there. The doctors are taking my tolerance into account. (Dr. Linton) has also talked to my addiction specialist in Palm Beach. He knows he might have to be liberal with the pain meds,” said Grimes.
“We do have to watch his medication because he was addicted to pain drugs a month ago. His body is so used to the pain meds,” said Linton, who reported the “surgery went fine.”
Linton also said Grimes is a “goal-oriented person;” he expects Grimes to reach those goals.
Jason Browne was previously a reporter for The Dispatch.