On the football field, Bernie Kosar was a picture of contradictions. Pure athleticism was never his forté, from legs that never could outrun the slowest pass rushers to an arm that often reverted to an unconventional, sidearm motion.
The results? He once threw 308 passes without a single interception, setting what was then an NFL record.
Now 49 years old, the former University of Miami and Miami Dolphins quarterback is finding that maximizing his tools to avoid life’s potholes can be even trickier. For years, some of his public appearances, as well as those on radio, have left many wondering if his slurred speech was the result of drinking. He had trouble finding words to express himself. The past decade has brought virtually nonstop ringing in his ears and headaches. Meaningful sleep became impossible.
All this, in addition to well-documented financial problems in which millions vanished and his marriage ended in divorce.
That’s not the Bernie Kosar who appeared before the media Thursday in Cleveland, where he spent the majority of his career with the Browns. A confident, upbeat Kosar offered a glowing testimonial to “groundbreaking” care received from Dr. Rick Sponaugle, who runs a wellness institute in Palm Harbor, outside Tampa.
Finding Sponaugle, Kosar said, was “a gift from God” to counter more than a dozen concussions while playing. He added, “I see all the symptoms going away.”
In a phone interview with The Palm Beach Post on Friday, Sponaugle offered a general outline of his treatment, saying he conducted a PET (positron emission tomography) scan of Kosar’s brain to assess damage, then put Kosar on a “proprietary” IV and supplement program combined with a holistic approach that included improved nutrition.
“According to Bernie, it’s 90 to 95 percent gone, probably with a week and a half of treatment,” Sponaugle said of Kosar’s symptoms.
Without evoking the word “cure,” Sponaugle added, “He doesn’t need my services anymore, to be honest with you.”
Almost simultaneously with the news conference, researchers confirmed that the brain of late Dolphins and San Diego Chargers linebacker Junior Seau had chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, which also has been found in scores of other former professional football players who have died or committed suicide at an early age, including Pahokee’s Andre Waters.
Given that Sponaugle said he not only could mitigate but reverse the effects of brain trauma, such treatment would constitute nothing short of a breakthrough.
Such progress is the goal of Dr. Robert A. Stern, a Ph.D. and professor of neurology and neurosurgery at Boston University’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy. Stern received a grant from the National Institutes of Health that was supported — but not funded — by the NFL to develop a way to diagnose CTE in a living person (currently, it can be diagnosed only after death). Stern’s study includes 100 former NFL players ages 40 to 69, began a year ago and should last two more years.
“I find Dr. Sponaugle’s claims are not at all based on any known or accepted scientific findings,” Stern said Saturday. “I view them as unacceptable, misleading and potentially quite harmful.”
Stern said he knows of no methods of reversing brain injuries.
Privately, others involved in traditional brain injury science are skeptical of Sponaugle, hedging themselves by conceding they haven’t examined Kosar and find it quite possible Kosar either feels better or at least believes he does for now.
Kosar, who still lives in western Broward County, said his reason for coming forward was to help others.
“I see friends of mine and I think a lot of them are losing hope,” he said at the news conference. “There are hundreds, if not thousands of guys, who are dealing with issues and pain and stuff . . . They have an option and something that can genuinely help them get better in a short amount a time. You don’t have to live the rest of your life in pain and agony.”
Kosar isn’t the first Sponaugle patient to offer a testimonial. Sponaugle admitted he has given selected patients free treatment, in some cases in exchange for positive comments to the media — an arrangement virtually unheard of.
Sponaugle bristled when asked if Kosar, who in 2009 was filing for bankruptcy, received free or discounted care.
“He paid me in full,” Sponaugle said. “He did not get a thing from me. He didn’t ask for free treatment.”
Sponaugle is an anesthesiologist specializing in addiction. On websites and infomercials with actress Suzanne Somers, his claims include treating autism and Alzheimer’s, and he has said his anti-aging program can take 15 years off patients within weeks. His detox program claimed to cure OxyContin addicts in six hours. At times, his approach has included citing from the Bible and he once told The Winston-Salem (N.C.) Journal that if such passages didn’t move patients to tears, “I feel like I’ve failed.”
Stern scoffed at what he sees as Sponaugle’s over-reliance on PET scans and such sweeping claims.
“If that were the case, he would have won already several Nobel prizes and be applauded by the entire scientific community as perhaps the most brilliant scientist out there,” Stern said.