The 1985 Chicago Bears are considered by many to be the best professional football team of all time.
The coach was Hall of Fame player and coach “Iron Mike” Ditka. Ditka was the ultimate “rough and tough” player and coach. The 1985 team he coached won Super Bowl XX handily.
In 2015, Ditka was interviewed on television by Bryant Gumbel. In the interview Ditka admitted that if he had an 8-year old son he would not want his son to ever play football. Gumbel answered the same way. With a lot of emotion, Mike Ditka stated that his career as a player and coach had made football a major part of his entire life. But there was no way he would want a family member to play the game.
Ditka has been interviewed a number of times about his teammates and players diagnosed with CTE.
The quarterback of the 1985 Bears team was Jim McMahon. Another Hall of Fame player, McMahon took a huge beating over two decades. McMahon’s signature behavior after he threw a touchdown pass was to look downfield for a huge offensive lineman and then run up at full speed and crash helmets with his 300 pound teammates to celebrate. At the time, the headbutting behavior was seen by many as funny, repeated often in clips on television, and portrayed regularly in Sports Illustrated. The announcers on ABC’s Monday Night Football thought the head butting was a “scream” and often commented on it in a joking way.
Sadly, one of those football announcers (Frank Gifford, a Hall of Fame player with the NY Giants in the 1960s) was found in his recent autopsy to have had a brain severely damaged by CTE. Gifford performed some very well publicized “odd and embarrassing” behaviors during the last two decades of his life consistent with such a diagnosis. The primary expert analyst was Don Meredith who played 9 seasons as quarterback with the Dallas Cowboys. Meredith’s cause of death in 2010 was listed as “cerebral hemorrhage.”
The quarterback and prolific headbutt specialist, Jim McMahon, was diagnosed with young onset dementia about 25 years after that Super Bowl win. He was a key part of the Player’s Association lawsuit against the NFL. His “treatment” has recently taken a very odd twist.
In a true quirk of how football exploits individuals, you can purchase a signed Jim McMahon replica helmet on Amazon.com. To see the item and a picture of McMahon signing one, click here. This is not a affiliate link and I make no money for sending you to the site. I do find it odd that a replica version of protective headgear that did not protect the head is offered for sale.
As Ditka said in 2015 … “the risk is worse than the reward” and he would try his hardest to dissuade any children who wanted to play football.
[In passing, I note that McMahon’s headbutting was fairly similar to the impact a professional, amateur, or child soccer player sustains without a helmet during a “header.”]
Football has destroyed many lives. Many star players from the first 49 Super Bowl seasons have had to endure profound mental and physical problems because the game has a number of fundamental flaws regarding participant safety. There have been suicides and severe domestic violence and financial disasters and drug abuse and many other behaviors that probably would not have occurred had the player not been silently injured with continuous stress to the brain.
Here is a list of the NFL players confirmed to have CTE at autopsy or having symptoms suggestive of CTE (no autopsy or still alive) or who settled with the NFL as part of the players lawsuit against the league. This a big list and will grow much larger as as former and current players age.
Tackle football at all levels should be banned in the United States immediately. Americans would be shocked if it were announced that America would allow Roman-style gladiator contests where the participants seek to cause each other significant harm that could result in death to the losers and freedom to the winners. On the other hand, nobody seems particularly concerned that the NFL Rams will start playing in the Los Angeles COLOSSEUM in the fall of 2016 with financial freedom going to all players, team owners, coaches, and media personalities and brain damage potentially affecting all players.
When you have neurodegenerative disease (not CTE in this case) and watch your own abilities fade away, you realize how precious those abilities are. No matter what the financial inducement, in a civilized society individuals should not be permitted to sell their brain functions for the entertainment of others.
Ban football. It has no place in institutions of higher learning (colleges, NCAA) or as a public spectacle (NFL, 50 years of Super Bowls during my lifetime).