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But Webster's obituary was written in 2002. The NFL made the $1 million donation in January of this year. For much of the time in between, league officials played down the long-term health effects of concussions. Physicians who worked for NFL teams routinely discredited evidence that linked football and brain damage.
Whether or not image driven, the NFL has had a moment of clarity. As a result, so have the doctors, trainers and coaches who work with young athletes. In Kansas and Missouri, athletes who suffer concussions are now required to get a doctor's OK before they return to action.
But permission slips are fallible, which is why some doctors are pushing even harder — including a former Chiefs doctor who, after enduring the NFL's concussion crisis, is now working to keep fragile minds from becoming irretrievably scrambled.
Rockhurst High School is, by all definitions, a football powerhouse. Perched on the state line between Kansas City and Leawood, the school has won seven state championships under coach Tony Severino. A team shop stocked with $50 hoodies sits under the school's permanent bleachers.
Like any boys' school contender, Rockhurst recruits its players and imports its cheerleaders. On this Friday night in mid-October, Notre Dame de Sion's dance team provides the halftime entertainment. Raymore Peculiar serves as the opposition.
Along the sideline, Joseph Waeckerle limps his way back and forth. A bushy white mustache affirms his status as one of the team's elder statesmen. Waeckerle attended Rockhurst in the early 1960s. Like many graduates of the Jesuit-run school, he feels a connection that makes him to want give back. A semi-retired physician, he now volunteers as the head-and-neck guy for the school's athletic teams.
There may not be a high school in the country with a more accomplished doctor on its sidelines. Waeckerle has testified before Congress about disaster preparedness and has published articles on wound care. He helped write the original test certifying sports-medicine specialists. And he's an expert in sports-related concussions, as anyone with his experience must be: Waeckerle was a member of the Chiefs' medical staff for 20 years before his contract expired in June.
A Kansas City native, Waeckerle started his career in emergency medicine. And on July 17, 1981, he attended to one of Kansas City's best-known emergencies. It was 6 p.m., and he had just finished a shift at Baptist Medical Center near Brookside. Waeckerle played rugby in those days, so before he left the hospital, he got in some cardio by running up and down an 11-floor stairwell.
After he finished exercising, Waeckerle heard what everyone else would soon hear: that a fourth-floor walkway had collapsed on a tea dance at the Hyatt Regency. The director of Kansas City's emergency medical system from 1976 to 1979, Waeckerle learned that his replacement was out of town. He rushed to the scene.
When he arrived, he grabbed a bullhorn. With a voice of calm amid the chaos, he organized the medical response. "It was just like a bomb going off in a hotel," he says.
Waeckerle and the other rescuers spent hours crawling through the wreckage, extricating survivors, performing amputations and giving morphine to the ones who weren't going to make it out. The grim tally: 114 dead, 216 injured.