Gator legend Carlos Alvarez: Ailing former football players deserve some of NIL cash
Gerald Loper gets out of bed feeling like a 2,000-year-old man. He takes a hot shower, rubbing himself down with Epsom salt.
That loosens him up enough for a long set of stretching exercises. Then he’ll go for a walk, though it’s more like a hobble on bad days.
“I’m beat to hell,” Loper said.
That’s not terribly uncommon when you’re approaching 70, though Loper belongs to a special class of Old Guy. Their creaking sounds can be traced to thunderous football stadiums long ago.
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It's time to help those players that built The Swamp
Stadiums like Florida Field.
That was its simpler name in a simpler time. Long before transfer portals or recruiting apps or anyone dreamed of this thing called NIL.
Today’s players are getting paid for Name, Image and Likeness, and that’s a good thing. But you know what would make it better?
If yesterday’s players got a little piece of the pie.
Probably not directly from NIL programs but from some foundation financed by people who realize the old guys deserve some of the financial love now being showered on the new.
“I’m delighted for them,” Carlos Alvarez said. “But when all is said and done, the older players also put some of the bricks in Florida Field. They deserve something in their time of need.”
Alvarez put quite a few bricks in what’s now Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. On the third play of his career in 1969, he electrified the place with a 70-yard TD catch from fellow sophomore John Reaves.
The “Cuban Comet” was born, though football didn’t define him. Alvarez spoke out on social issues such as the Vietnam War and athletes’ rights long before it became trendy. The man needs a cause, and he’s found a new one.
“I can’t think of a single guy who played with me who doesn’t have some kind of injury that is lasting,” Alvarez said.
He’s now a Tallahassee-based lawyer, and his idea is to form a board that would distribute money to former players who have health issues related to football. Especially those who are struggling financially to pay medical expenses.
The board would be staffed by doctors, ex-players and others with relevant expertise. The project is in the spit-balling stage, but it needs to become a reality. Look at a picture of Alvarez in action, and you’ll start to see why.
He sported a rudimentary helmet with a single face bar. That’s one reason he suffered a concussion and got two teeth knocked out in a game. Another reason was the opposing safety was a human missile, zeroing in with his helmet on Alvarez’s head.
Now, that would warrant a targeting penalty and a half-game suspension. Then, it warranted a round of hugs and a gold-star review at the next film session.
Of course, those were the days when Pop Warner kids didn’t get water breaks during August practices; when high school linemen could break their necks without anyone knowing it.
Gerald Loper hurt his neck playing at Eustis High
That’s what happened to Loper as a ninth-grader at Eustis High. A forearm blow to his helmet cracked a couple of vertebrae. He walked home, and his mother noticed a knot on the back of his neck.
Loper rehabbed, lifted tons of weight, fashioned a homemade neck brace and eventually became an all-state lineman. It was onto Florida in 1972, back when offensive linemen weren’t allowed to use their hands or extend their arms.
Blocking was basically collisions. Demolition derby. Loper loved it.
“I could go out and legally get in a fight,” he said. “It sounds kind of crazy.”
Not when you’re 21 years old and can squat 725 pounds. Loper was a three-year starter, a warrior who once lost 18 pounds in an AstroTurf-heated game against Auburn.
That kind of crazy is like buying things on credit. Eventually, the bill comes due.
It’s paid in ways big and small. Headaches. Artificial joints. Hypertension. Being unable to chase your grandkids around. Depression.
Former players paying price with their health
The New York Times reported on Aug. 7 that three players from Alabama’s 1965 national championship have died from the concussion-related disease.
A lot of guys are hurting, no question about it,” said Loper, who’s retired after a career in software sales. “It only takes one hit to get hurt, and it stays with you.”
Something should have been done long before now to help the hurting. What’s gotten Alvarez going is NIL, though that comes with complications.
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That money goes only to current student-athletes. Laws would need rewriting, though it shouldn’t have to come to that.
A nonprofit could be set up to raise and distribute money. What NIL has done is show how much money is out there.
Fans and businesses are donating $10 million to $25 million a year, all to secure the (possibly) undying affection of players. But with recruits, it’s like buying on spec.
Investors don’t know whether that 17-year-old hotshot will provide any football thrills. They do know what a bunch of broken-down 50-60-and-70-somethings provided.
What if fans were asked to divert just 10% of their NIL donations to a foundation that would essentially say, “Thanks for the memories”?
“I think they’d say, ‘I’d give a little bit more than 10%,’” Loper said.
Let’s hope so because the Old Guys essentially worked for free. Now, they are paying the price every day.
— David Whitley is The Gainesville Sun's sports columnist. Contact him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @DavidEWhitley.