Browns legend Bernie Kosar: ‘I should have been a statistic’

Seven years ago, after suffering a seizure on a United Airlines Kight out of Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, former Cleveland Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar spent 96 hours in a coma, suffering the consequences of a lifetime of bad hits on the Peld and bad decisions off it.

“In that 97th hour, the doctor came in and said, ‘Man, you’re doing great. You’re a tough guy. Keep up your prescriptions and your protocols,’” Kosar said. “I’m like, ‘Bro, I’m on like 60 different pills. I’m Adderalled and Vyvansed. I’m medicated through the whole course of the day. That’s not a way to live.

“I knew there had to be a better way.”

He found it.

After being what he called “a few Pop Tarts north of 320 pounds,” he’s now back around his playing weight of 200 pounds.

After being told he had Pve years left of cognitive brain function, Kosar is now able to stand in front of a crowd of hundreds of fans and talk non-stop for more than an hour, displaying his patented ability to sound eloquent, punchy and jock- like, all in the same sentence.

And after growing up in Youngstown, thinking “my blessing, my gift from God” was to be the Browns’ quarterback, he now believes his purpose is to talk about healthier living, even if that’s as simple as saying, “Don’t eat a 48-ounce steak and pound shots of whiskey.”

“I know you didn’t come here to hear my health and wellness journey or my homily on health and wellness,” said Kosar, who spoke to members of the Hall of Fame Luncheon Club on Monday, March 18, at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. “But it really is what I’m passionate about and what I almost feel is my real responsibility in life now.”

During and after his football career — which included playing quarterback at Boardman High School, the University of Miami (Florida) and the Browns, Dallas Cowboys and Miami Dolphins — Kosar said he had 15 seizures, nearly 50 surgeries, 100 concussions and “80 or some” broken bones. He has seen former teammates and opponents battle ALS and Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) traumatic brain injury (TBI) and has seen how those conditions can lead to overdoses and suicides, like with former Pittsburgh Steelers center Mike Webster, San Diego Chargers linebacker Junior Seau and former Browns lineman/Chagrin Falls native Bob Dahl.

“Those types of stories, those ‘celebrations of life’ that we go to, have become way too common,” he said. “I love my (jersey) No. 19. But that’s the average number of Ohioans who will commit suicide today. Twenty-two veterans will commit suicide in the United States today. I could have, should have been one of those two statistics.

“I don’t stand here to say, ‘Look at me.’ I say that to show the vulnerability and to say there are options out there. Some simple things, like seeing a doctor once or twice a year. Doing ‘food as your medicine.’ Some of the lifestyle changes have absolutely slowed down the cognitive decline of myself and the health and wellness perspective of it.”

Although Kosar is a spokesperson for Canton-based Aultcare Primetime Health Plan — not to mention the face of “Kosar Coffee” and “Kosar Wellness,” a line of vitamins and supplements — Monday’s talk centered more on practical changes rather than his line of products.

When Kosar returned from the Chicago hospital, he realized, “Either I was going to die or I was going to Pgure out this stuff on my own.”

So, he started by buying a 64-ounce Vitamix blender — “One of the big trash can-sized ones, not that little ‘OK, I’m going to make a little juicy 8-ounce thing,’” he said — and replaced his sugary breakfasts with smoothies based in celery, carrots, ginger and water. He drinks a third of it in the morning, then drinks the rest over the course of the day. It helped him develop a taste for vegetables — “Green beans start tasting good,” he said — and it helped his body recover without relying on pharmaceutical solutions.

And while much of his work is based in Northeast Ohio, he expanded south two years ago when he founded Community at the Core, a nonproPt foundation dedicated to revitalizing agriculture in Appalachian coal communities.

In short, Kosar believes real food leads to real recovery because he’s seen it happen in his own life.

“I’ve been asked to do these luncheons quite a bit over the last 20 years and there have been times 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13 years ago where I wasn’t able to come here and be here at noon promptly, or be here for an early event at 8:15 in the morning and be cognitively present,” Kosar said. “Seven or eight years ago, I couldn’t enunciate, articulate, communicate any multi-syllable words.

“I’m proud to say in 7 1⁄2 years, I haven’t done a pill or drank and that cognitive ability (is back). Now, I’m here today and I feel a responsibility to talk about this and say there are other options out there.”

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Author: Joe Scalzo,