Im­pact of de­gen­er­a­tive brain dis­ease felt in fam­i­lies

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Jimmy Golen

Jim Hudson’s wife came home and found him sit­ting on a couch, clutch­ing a golf ball, with tears stream­ing down his face.

The for­mer New York Jets de­fen­sive back, a star of the team’s only Su­per Bowl cham­pi­onship, had played a lot of golf; he was a sin­gle-digit hand­i­cap at the time. But he was watch­ing the Golf Chan­nel be­cause he had for­got­ten what the ball in his hand was for, or how to play.

“You watch the life go out of some­one’s eyes,” Lise Hudson said.

A col­lege na­tional cham­pion whose in­ter­cep­tion in the Su­per Bowl helped clinch the 1968 NFL ti­tle for Joe Na­math and the Jets, Hudson was among more than 100 for­mer foot­ball play­ers di­ag­nosed with chronic trau­matic en­cephalopa­thy in a study pub­lished this week.

The dis­ease can cause mem­ory loss, de­pres­sion, vi­o­lent mood swings and other cog­ni­tive and be­hav­ioral is­sues in those ex­posed to repet­i­tive head trauma.

Box­ers. Mem­bers of the mil­i­tary. Foot­ball play­ers — in­clud­ing not only Hudson but also Earl Mor­rall, whose pass he in­ter­cepted in Su­per Bowl III to help seal what is still con­sid­ered the great­est up­set in NFL his­tory.

At Mor­rall’s 2014 memo­rial ser­vice, his fam­ily played a video with high­lights from a ca­reer that in­cluded three NFL cham­pi­onships and the league’s MVP award. He was also shown tak­ing horse-col­lar tack­les and hel­met-to-hel­met shots that foot­ball’s cus­to­di­ans at all lev­els have since tried to cur­tail.

“Dad shook his head,” Matt Mor­rall said, “and went back in.”

In the largest up­date on CTE so far, Bos­ton Uni­ver­sity and VA re­searchers re­ported in the Jour­nal of the Amer­i­can Med­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion on Tues­day that they found signs of the dis­ease in nearly 90 per­cent of the 200 brains ex­am­ined, in­clud­ing 110 of 111 from NFL play­ers.

The study in­cluded quar­ter­backs who are taught to stay in the pocket, where they ab­sorb crush­ing hits, and line­men who sus­tained re­peated, sub-con­cus­sive blows to the head. It in­cluded kick­off spe­cial­ists who sprint down the field in search of con­tact — a role known as “the sui­cide squad.”

“They were like a bunch of kamikazes,” said Vir­ginia Grim­s­ley, the widow of Oil­ers and Dol­phins line­backer John Grim­s­ley.

It in­cluded play­ers, like Don Paul, whose fam­ily watched his body and his brain de­te­ri­o­rate un­til he was al­most 90. And it in­cluded play­ers like Dave Duer­son, who would not let that hap­pen, killing him­self at 50 — with a bul­let to the chest, so that his brain could still be stud­ied.

This week, The As­so­ci­ated Press asked the sur­viv­ing rel­a­tives of more than a dozen play­ers in­volved in the study to de­scribe liv­ing and dy­ing with CTE.

These are the peo­ple who saw the dis­ease up close:

• The daugh­ter who made sure her dad made it to Thanks­giv­ing din­ner.

• The chil­dren who had to re­mind their fa­ther that their mother had died so many times that they even­tu­ally stopped telling him, to avoid up­set­ting him anew.

• The wives forced to feed their hus­bands — many would be­come ex-hus­bands; so many fam­i­lies dis­in­te­grated un­der the strain of the dis­ease — or push around in a wheel­chair a once-im­pos­ing phys­i­cal spec­i­men.

Some said foot­ball wasn’t worth the dam­age. Oth­ers still love the sport.

Some quit the game them­selves, or for­bade their chil­dren from play­ing. Oth­ers just want it to be safer.

“It’s some­thing par­ents should be dis­cussing with their kids: ‘You’re not go­ing to feel it now, but you’ll feel it later,’ ” said Scott Gilchrist, the son of ex-Bills star Cookie Gilchrist. “‘ Would you like to try golf ?’ ”

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