Doctors credited groundbreaking research when they accurately diagnosed chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in a living human being for the first time this past November. Now, scientists are determined to find a cure for the neurodegenerative disease. CTE, a rare condition linked to repetitive head trauma, can cause cognitive, physical and emotional complications.
Football is a notoriously dangerous sport and many of its players have developed the affliction. As summarized by Michael McCann of Sports Illustrated on August 15, “The study (published in the Journal of American Medicine) detected CTE at distressingly prevalent levels. Of the 202 brains analyzed, 177 (88%) showed CTE. Of particular concern, 48 of the 53 college players’ brains (91%) and 110 of the 111 (99%) NFL players’ brains exhibited CTE.”
Nearly 32 years ago, on January 26, 1986, quarterback Jim McMahon and safety Dave Duerson helped the Bears maul the New England Patriots 46-10 in Super Bowl XX. The 6-foot-1, 200-pound Duerson, who the Bears took out of Notre Dame with the 64th pick in the 1983 NFL Draft, was a four-time Pro Bowler and two-time second-team All-Pro.
Duerson later died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest at the age of 50 in February 2011. Shortly before committing suicide, the 1987 NFL Man of the Year Award winner sent his family a text message requesting that neurologists examine his brain tissue. Duerson’s kin proceeded to send his brain to researchers at the Boston University School of Medicine. Approximately three months later, medical specialists at the private institution confirmed that Duerson suffered from the effects of CTE.
“(Duerson) had a variety of symptoms that were entirely consistent with CTE in the literature and what our findings have been,” Dr. Robert Stern, the director of clinical research for the BU Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) Center, told the Chicago Tribune. “He complained of headaches. Most important, he had worsening short-term memory problems and a growing problem with impulse control. He had a short fuse, a growing temper and abusiveness.”
Meanwhile, the 6-foot-1, 195-pound McMahon has been diagnosed with early onset dementia and he battles memory loss and vision and speech problems. The Mayo Clinic reports that dementia and forgetfulness are suspected symptoms of CTE.
“I was having a lot of problems with just forgetting the easiest things,” said McMahon, 58. “Then I started getting some bad head pains, really sharp pains and a lot of dull pains, but it was constant. A lot of constant pressure on my skull. I didn’t know what to do. I’d leave the house and I’d have to call Laurie (his girlfriend) on the way home and say, ‘I don’t know where I’m at. I don’t know how I got on this road. I told her aliens abducted me and put me over here.’ It was very frustrating. I can see how guys now … how some of these guys have ended their lives, because of the pain.”
McMahon, who the Bears selected fifth overall out of Brigham Young University in 1982, competed for six franchises before retiring in February 1996. The hard-partying Bear was a standout athlete who effortlessly identified defensive formations at the line of scrimmage. McMahon also played with recklessness and willingly sacrificed his body to gain an extra yard on the gridiron. McMahon, citing countless concussions that were left improperly treated, filed a class action lawsuit against the NFL in August 2011.
The 1985 Bears are frequently lauded as the league’s preeminent squad. Sadly, Dave Duerson and Jim McMahon apparently forfeited their minds to capture Chicago’s lone Vince Lombardi Trophy.