Gary Plummer

GARY PLUMMER, 55, linebacker with San Diego and San Francisco, 1986-97, was diagnosed with early onset dementia in November 2014. “Your helmet is a weapon, and it always has been,” he said. “I had a headache for 11 straight years.” Plummer was in denial about the trauma to his head and didn’t think he’d ever had a concussion, since he’d never been knocked out cold. He once stormed out of a panel discussion on concussions organized by agent Leigh Steinberg after yelling, “You guys are a joke.” He said he felt reassured by “being lied to by the NFL.” He worked for years as a 49ers radio analyst, but when he started working for the Pac-12 Network, he struggled with memory. “I couldn’t think fast.” While playing, Plummer, who also played 3 years in the USFL, believed that players who retired because of injury were weak.  He’s also suffered from depression, especially after the suicide of his good friend and former teammate Junior Seau, who committed suicide in May 2012 by shooting himself and was found to have CTE.—“Young 49er’s retirement kick-starts discussion about the dangers of football”, SF Chronicle 3/18/15, Ann Killion. “League of Denial”, Steve Fainaru & Mark Fainaru-Wada.

Long-Term Damage

NFL actuaries estimate that 28% of NFL players will be diagnosed with a debilitating brain injury.  A 1994 Holy Cross study showed that on average, the longer a player’s career, the shorter his lifespan.–“The Damage to NFL Players”, The New York Review of Books 3/19/15, Nathaniel Rich.

Weighty Issues

WEIGHTY ISSUES: 57 of the 256 players entering the NFL via the 2014 draft were listed at weights of at least 300 pounds. Number of NFL  300-pounders by year: 93 in 2013; 119 in 2012; 132 in 2011; 60 in 2010 and 2009. In about 2002 offensive lineman Aaron Gibson became the league’s first 400-pounder. Former offensive lineman Antoine Davis, 47, grew to almost 450 pounds in retirement. “Once you’re done, you’re done,” he said. “You’re out and you’re on your own.” William ‘The Refrigerator’ Perry, defensive tackle and occasional goal-line fullback on the 1985 Super Bowl champion Chicago Bears, passed 400 pounds in retirement and needed help to get out of bed in his late 40s. He lives in South Carolina and rarely appears in public.—“Ex-NFL linemen discover that weighing 300 pounds or more is no asset in life after football”, 5/28/14, Kent Babb.

Jamie Dukes

JAMIE DUKES, 50, center with Atlanta, Green Bay and Arizona, 1986-95, played with 4 players who died of weight-related matters: Reggie White, defensive end with Philadelphia, Green Bay and Carolina, 1985-2000, died of cardiac arrhythmia on 12/26/04 at 43; Tory Epps, defensive tackle with Atlanta, Chicago and New Orleans, 1990-95, died of a blood clot on 6/1/05 at 38; Bernard Dafney, offensive tackle with the Houston Oilers, Minnesota, Arizona, Pittsburgh, and the Baltimore Ravens, 1992-97, died of a heart attack on 1/11/06 at 37; Mel Agee, defensive end and tackle with Indianapolis and Atlanta, 1991-95, died of a heart attack on 6/15/08 at 39. Dukes played at 305 pounds but ballooned up to 385 in retirement before having Realize Band Surgery, which shrinks the stomach and reduces the feeling of hunger that leads to large intakes of food. He lost 100 pounds. In conjunction with an exercise program, the NFL Network personality has greatly improved his health and reduced his risk of heart- and weight-related problems.—NFL Network video.

Jesse Freitas

JESSE FREITAS, 63, quarterback with San Diego, 1974-75, was found dead in the back of a car on 2/8/15 in Petaluma, CA. There was no indication of trauma or foul play. He ran into legal troubles after football, arrested for petty theft, trespassing, hit-and-run, and violating restraining orders. Freitas’ family claimed he had a mental illness and sometimes behaved erratically.  He was committed last year to Atascadero State Hospital for psychiatric treatment.  The family has agreed to have his brain examined for possible trauma (CTE) caused by football injuries.—“Ex-NFL QB Jesse Freitas found dead in car; foul play not suspected”, Sporting News 2/11/15, Travis Durkee, on  “Former Stanford QB found dead in car in Petaluma”, SF Chronicle 2/12/15, Evan Sernoffsky.

Chester McGlockton

CHESTER McGLOCKTON, 42, defensive tackle with the LA/Oakland Raiders, Kansas City, Denver and NY Jets, 1992-2003, died of an enlarged heart on 11/30/11. He was listed at 335 pounds toward the end of his career and had LapBand surgery in 2007 to shed weight, and lost about 60 pounds. In a 2007 interview with the San Jose Mercury News, he said, “I still get stingers, and I haven’t played in five years. I shot my toe up so many times I can barely move it. The (LapBand) surgery helped tremendously, it makes me eat like I’m supposed to. But I still can’t go work out or run. It just hurts too much. What’s scary is I’m only 39.  God forbid when I get to 50, 60. I’m just hoping I can walk.”—“Chester McGlockton, Former Raiders Star, Dies Of Apparent Heart Attack at 42”, 11/30/11.

Mosi Tatupu

MOSI TATUPU, 54, running back and special teamer with New England and the LA Rams, 1978-91, died of a heart attack in 2010 and was found to have CTE in October 2014, a day after his family learned he’d been elected to the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame. Tatupu left a family dinner at a restaurant after his first home game with New England and was found vomiting profusely in the parking lot by his wife, Linnea Garcia-Tatupu. Her father, a former boxer while in the marines, knew that Tatupu had suffered a concussion. The fan favorite from American Samoa underwent distinct behavior changes in his early 30s, growing aloof and forgetful, frequently misplacing things, and drinking heavily. His metamorphosis caused his 20-year marriage to unravel. In CTE the abnormal buildup of tau protein prevents the brain’s nerve cells from making normal connections with each other, eventually killing them. The buildup causes erratic behavior, memory loss, depression, and ultimately dementia. Tatupu’s son, Lofa, 32, played 6 seasons with the Seattle Seahawks and wants his 2 sons, one nearly 4 years old, and the other 6 months, to eventually follow in the family footsteps, which terrifies Linnea. “I’m not going to lie: I loved football up until I became involved with somebody who played the game. I am not going to recommend any sport where you can’t protect the very thing that is meant to keep you alive. If your brain doesn’t work, there is precious little else that will.”—“Years of battering took toll on 1980s Patriots star Mosi Tatupu”, 1/27/15, Kay Lazar.

“X’s and O’s”

“X’s and O’s (A Football Love Story)” is a multi-leveled, kaleidoscopic play co-authored by KJ Sanchez and Jenny Mercein (daughter of ex-NFLer Chuck Mercein), and directed by Tony Taccone at Berkeley Rep (through 3/1/15). Based on exhaustive sociological research and interviews with ex-players and their wives and families, it tackles all of football’s pressing issues head-on, informing and educating in a highly entertaining and dramatic way. It examines America’s increasingly conflicted relationship to the sport so deeply enmeshed in our culture and the fabric of who we are. There’s an engaging blend of monologues and dialogues, differing perspectives and debates, along with illustrative visuals and game footage, covering the medical, financial and racial issues surrounding the sport. Greater weight is brought to the proceedings by ex-49er and 2-time Super Bowl champion Dwight Hicks, now an experienced actor, who has dealt with many of the related issues in reality.—Personal attendance at the play on 1/21/15.

Fuzzy Thurston

FUZZY THURSTON, 80, guard with the Baltimore Colts and Green Bay, 1958-67, died on 12/14/14 after suffering from Alzheimer’s and cancer. The 6-time NFL champion was a pulling guard on one of football’s most famous plays, the Packers power sweep under head coach Vince Lombardi. Born in Altoona, WI, his laborer father died when Fuzzy was 2. His mother, Marie, struggled to support the family and sent Fuzzy to live with an aunt in Florida for a time. He attended Valparaiso on a basketball scholarship and did not play football till his junior year. Long a popular figure in Green Bay, after his playing days he owned a chain of taverns around Wisconsin. Fuzzy’s #63 Bar & Grill in Green Bay remains a gathering spot for Packer fans.—“Fuzzy Thurston, Big Broom in the Packers’ Great Sweep Play, Dies at 80”, NY Times 12/15/14, Bruce Weber.

ALS-Concussion Link Found

Boston University neuropathologist Ann McKee says that brain damage can lead to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a disease that strikes 1 in 100,000 people in the general population, slowly destroys muscles, and usually leads to death by respiratory failure. McKee says toxic proteins that form after brain trauma and lead to depression and dementia may also cause ALS. HBO Real Sports said it is aware of 14 NFL retirees afflicted with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. At least 8 Canadian Football League players have been diagnosed with the disease.—“Boston University study by Ann McKee finds link between concussions and Lou Gehrig’s Disease”, 8/17/10, Michael O’Keefe.