That goes back to his days as a ferocious linebacker at Ocala Forest High School, and later with the Florida Gators and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
His trademark southern drawl came through when he co-hosted a sports talk show in Tampa after he finally quit football. He always has been as real as a person can be.
That’s why it is especially painful to hear that at age 60, the man I knew is likely headed down a road from which there presently is no return.
In an interview with HBO sports, his wife, Mary, said Scot has Alzheimer’s disease. That’s not even the worst of it though.
She says the National Football League has denied his claim for assistance from the settlement it reached after retired players began reporting abnormally high rates of brain-related diseases and other ailments.
A study showed that compared to the rest of the U.S., NFL players are three times more likely to die from neurodegenerative diseases and four times more likely to die from Alzheimer’s or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis — Lou Gehrig’s disease.
There is no telling how many concussions Brantley endured from high school through seven years with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In 1979, Brantley took a knee to the head and was knocked unconscious in Florida’s opening home game of the season.
He never played another down for the Gators.
He was advised to quit football then but received another medical diagnosis that convinced him and the NFL that he would be OK. The league and players weren’t knowledgeable about long-term effects from head injuries then, certainly not to the degree we see today.
Brantley kept on delivering his signature hard hits, and he said in interviews that he figured headaches and concussions were just part of the game.
You know what else should be part of the game?
How about some compassion.
Players like Scot Brantley helped make the NFL into the multibillion enterprise it is today. The league owes him and all those former players with similar problems compassion, care, and money.
I was part of a team at the Tampa Tribune and WFLA-NewsChannel 8 in 2010 that did a series we called “Broken Bucs.”
We sought to find as many players from the 1979 division championship team that we could to see how they were doing years later. It was the first time any media outlet had undertaken such a project on a single team.
One of my tasks was to find Jerry Eckwood, who was a standout running back on that team. I flew to Nashville, where he was staying in assisted living. He had been homeless for a while and was battling both physical pain and mental deterioration.
He could talk lucidly one minute, then go into a rambling, nonsensical paranoid delusion the next. He had suffered multiple concussions as a player.
Eckwood eventually did get some assistance from the NFL, but the game can never adequately replace what it took from players like him and Scot Brantley.
In reporting that series, we held several meetings with former Bucs at a North Tampa hotel. Many told similar stories of being turned down for injury claims.
“You know what they call it, right?” former quarterback John Reaves said. “Delay, deny and hope you die.”
Reaves died last year at age 67.
In a 2013 interview with the Tampa Bay Times, Brantley talked about his failing memory and admitted he had no idea how many concussions he might have suffered over the years. Who knows how that might have changed if he had heeded the advice to give up football while he was still with the Gators.
All I know is, a guy I like and respect is fighting the battle of his life, and I believe football is the reason why.
I enjoy watching football as much as anyone, but no game is worth the price too many are paying.