Impact of degenerative brain disease felt in families
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 ?’ ”