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Looking to set trend

Posted: 9:15 p.m.

David Fulcher, the former Bengals Pro Bowl safety, got an envelope from Shayne Graham this week and he hopes it turns into a chain letter stretching through the NFL reaching other current players.

"I think there'll be a trickle effect," Fulcher said Thursday of Graham's medical outreach outlined in his recent letter to NFL alumni in the Greater Cincinnati area. "Other players are going to see this and jump on it. It just shows you where Shayne is coming from."

Which is how Graham sees Wednesday night's announcement at the Mercy Fairfield HealthPlex, when his foundation unveils a program offering former NFL players and coaches and their spouses that live in the Cincinnati area a comprehensive health screening, follow-up health coaching, and a membership to a state-of-the-art fitness center.

Graham, the record-breaking Bengals kicker, knows of no other program in the NFL like it. He prefers to stay out of an atmosphere that has recently resembled a civil war between the NFL Players Association and retired players. Instead he concentrates on the benefits of a program that screens for diseases ranging from prostate cancer to high blood pressure.

"I hope it becomes a trend," Graham said. "I wanted to provide something for the players that made the league what it is today. We know they played back when the reimbursement wasn't what it is now."

Former Bengals center Bruce Kozerski had yet to receive the letter Thursday but is intrigued.

"Very much appreciated," Kozerski said. "Most former players don't like to be told that we're fat and out of shape. But look at us. Most of us are using the knees we weren't born with."

Fulcher and Kozerski both lived through the 1987 strike in which they lost a good month of paychecks and part of the fight was over the benefits for retired players.

Neither is enamored with how the NFL Players Association has responded in the ensuing two decades but they view Graham's gesture as a ray of light.

"Just to be able to get a physical without it costing $1,000," Fulcher said. "That's what is facing some guys. I think it's a great deal."

Fulcher and Kozerski are working and have health insurance. Fulcher is a student advocate at a state school in the Bond Hill section of Cincinnati and Kozerski is a science teacher and the head football coach at Holy Cross High School in Northern Kentucky. But they also know there are retired players that are struggling and Fulcher, 44, wonders what's in store for him down the road.

"I had concussions. When I sneeze, I see white flakes. What's that?" he asked. "I'm going to need an artificial knee by the time I'm 50.  How much is going to be covered? The retired players, I don't think, are complaining about dollars and cents. I think they're worried about health insurance. When you think about it, we didn't get hurt that much when we played. Now is when the injuries are coming. It's kind of backward."

Graham said he has been aware of the concerns of the retired players for most of his career. He got to know one of the movement's loudest advocates, Hall of Fame offensive lineman Joe DeLamielleure, during his days in Carolina and has followed the issue in the media. He is drawn to the health issue.

"A lot of guys don't have the money, or sometimes their (post-playing) careers are limited physically," Graham said. "You see guys that have definitely aged with all the wear and tear on them. Guys who are 30 years old have 50-year-old knees. I don't play a position where there is that much wear and tear, but I've got a lot of respect for those guys that are still having that kind of pain.

"It's just something I wanted to do to give back to the guys that came before me."

Greg Ossmann, regional director of business development and community relations for Mercy Health Partners,  said the program was reinforced during a conversation with Bengals Hall of Famer Anthony Muñoz. The perfect guy, Ossmann thought, to ask about ex-players in the area.

"He said he wasn't aware of anything like screenings for retired players," Ossmann said, "and you know there have to be plenty of retired players not as fortunate as Anthony Muñoz. It just goes to show that Shayne has the right priorities."

Kozerski calls it "tremendously generous," and admires how the kickers that have passed through Cincinnati have stuck together in their community efforts. Kozerski played with Jim Breech, the man that Graham trails on the all-time Bengals scoring list, and Doug Pelfrey, the man Graham passed on the list last season.

Breech, along with Muñoz, joins Graham at the announcement.

"It's a tight-knit group. They kind of look to each other," Kozerski said. "And on this team they've really given back to the community. (Graham) is a very talented kicker and it's a nice thing he's done."

There is a bit of coincidence in Wednesday being the day for the announcement. It's the last day Graham and the Bengals have to reach a long-term deal before the end of the season. If things don't amp up, it doesn't look like it's going to happen.

"There hasn't been any progress since (last year)," said Graham of talks this month. "But I've given up making predictions. I never thought I'd be the franchise player. But it will work itself out. I'm focused on the events we've got coming up and then training camp. I'm looking forward to helping our team turn it around and continue to feed off the excitement that's been going on around here."

On July 11 at Jungle Jim's in Fairfield, Graham hosts a wine-tasting fundraiser and then on July 24 he runs a Celebrity Race-Off at the Motor Sports Club of Cincinnati in Batavia, Ohio. All proceeds go to Graham's foundation, which along with the partnership with Mercy is heavily involved in work with the military.

Here is a portion of Graham's letter to NFL alumni:

"Like most current players in the National Football League, I consider myself fortunate to have had a range of opportunities made available to me. I realize, however, that none of this would have been possible without the work and sacrifice of former players and coaches such as you who have paved the way for whatever success I and many others have enjoyed.

"Because of the debt I owe to retired players and coaches, I want to give something to all former NFL players and coaches in the Greater Cincinnati area. Through my foundation, we are going to provide you and your spouse a free package of health services which could prove life-saving. The services include:

• A comprehensive health screening
• Follow-up health coaching
• A membership to a state-of-the-art fitness center to support your fitness goals and help you enjoy a healthy lifestyle.

"The Shayne Graham Foundation has chosen Mercy Health Partners to provide the outlined healthcare services. As a leading healthcare system in Greater Cincinnati, we went with a provider who can deliver high quality, caring services.

"The free screening will include a blood draw for a number of lab tests, including testing for prostate cancer, thyroid disease, heart function, high cholesterol, blood sugar (glucose), liver function, kidney function, and blood pressure. Combining these tests with a questionnaire about your health and lifestyle will provide you with a comprehensive report that tells you your risk for the development of chronic diseases like Diabetes, Coronary Heart Disease, Congestive Heart Failure, Stoke, and some cancers. You will receive a full report that not only provides specific information on your individual risk, but will also tell you how much of that risk is modifiable and the best activities to reduce the modifiable portion of that risk. You will have a nurse health coach to support you in understanding and taking action on your personal report and a membership to one of the Mercy HealthPlexes to put those actions to work."

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