NEW YORK — The former Penn State football player who is suing the school and the NCAA over their handling of concussions says he has been dealing with dizziness, headaches, memory loss and other symptoms for 26 years.
Robert Samuels, who was a defensive back at Penn State from 1988-91, told The Associated Press on Thursday in a phone interview that only in recent years as more has become learned about the long-term damage concussions can cause did he start thinking his health problems could be related to his days playing football.
"It's definitely progressed to the point where it's worse," the 46-year-old Samuels said of his symptoms.
Samuels, 46, lives in Orlando, Florida, and works as an operations manager for a janitorial company. He filed one of six class-action lawsuits earlier this week that target the NCAA, major football conferences and, in some cases, individual schools. They are the first of up to 50 class-action lawsuits that are planned in the coming months.
He said training staff at Penn State twice diagnosed him with a concussion during his time at the school but the school never kept him from playing.
"One of the things that was prevalent during that time was for them to say you had your bell rung and kind of send you back in," Samuels said. "During my senior year I started to notice that I was having trouble sleeping. I started to notice that I was having problems with concentration when it came time for my classes and things like that. Just had a lot of fatigue, a lot of headaches, just made it very difficult to remain a student-athlete at the time."
Samuels said he pursued a professional career in the Canadian Football League and the Arena League but was done with the game after about two years.
He said his wife worried about his odd behavior and mood swings and she encouraged him to try to figure out what was wrong. He said he has seen doctors and but none has diagnosed that head trauma led to his symptoms.
Samuels said he had mixed feelings about becoming involved with the lawsuit.
"I have a lot of friendships with former teammates from Penn State. I also have the life experience that I gained at Penn State and it was kind of difficult to decide between being part of the culture that's established at Penn State and being part of those friendships and knowing that they would come under ridicule and scrutiny as opposed to (doing) what's best for me and my family."
There are former college football players who view the lawsuits with skepticism.
"I think the NCAA's an easy target right now," said Cole Cubelic, who played offensive line for Auburn from 1996-2000 and now hosts a sports-talk on WUMP in Hunstville, Alabama. "There's a gigantic group of former athletes who view this as a giant money grab."
Two other former Penn State players were originally named plaintiffs in the lawsuit along with Samuels, but they almost immediately requested that their names be removed because, they said, they were misled about the nature of the cases.
Samuels said that didn't make him rethink his involvement.
"I have to look at my own individual situation and the things that I deal with on a daily basis," he said. "As in many times in life when you make a decision that may differ from the popular opinion you may have to be the first one to step out and you may have to step out alone, and I'm OK with that."