Super Bowl memories are meant to last forever, but former Chicago Bears quarterback Jim McMahon worried on Thursday that his could fade away like his ability to remember things as simple as why he walked into a room.
McMahon is in Dallas ahead of tomorrow’s Super Bowl between the Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers hoping to shine a spotlight on a concussion crisis that has suddenly become the NFL’s hot-button issue.
He is working with the Sport Legacy Institute (SLI) whose mission is to help advance the study, treatment and prevention of head trauma in athletes.
McMahon led the Bears to victory in Super Bowl XX in 1986 and added a second championship ring with the Packers in 1997. But 15 seasons of absorbing punishment, including at least five concussions, has exacted a heavy toll.
McMahon may have provided NFL fans with a lifetime of memories, his are not so vivid, dulled not by time but by a string of debilitating concussions.
“For now I can still kind of remember [winning a Super Bowl] pretty clearly,” McMahon, 51, said. “But I’ve had some issues with my memory.”
“It’s nothing drastic right now, it’s simple things like I will walk into a room and forget why I walked in there. I have to stop and go back and think why did I come into this room,” he said.
McMahon says things are now different for him and his former teammates.
“When we get together we discuss [concussions], ‘How you feeling? You forgetting stuff like me?’” McMahon said “And they are. All of them.”
Concussions in the NFL dominated headlines this season, particularly the ones caused by helmet-to-helmet hits.
Kevin Turner, a fullback who spent nine seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots, spends a lot of time thinking about his life — or more accurately the life he has left after being diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease.
A recent study has linked ALS to brain trauma with NFL players having an eight times higher risk of contracting the disease.
“In 1997 on a kickoff I took a hit to the head and found myself asking a teammate are we in Green Bay or Philly,” Turner said. “I can’t recall ever getting treatment and I practised and played next week.”
“We need to start taking those things seriously and treating the most important organ in your body like we do our knees,” he said.
While SLI is using NFL players to highlight the devastating cumulative damage caused by repetitive brain trauma, the institute’s focus is on research and education.
SLI founder Chris Nowinski, who played football at Harvard University before embarking on a professional wrestling career that was ended by concussions, is among the 300 athletes who have donated their brains for study after their death.
“It [CET] appears very widespread in athletes who have played a lot of contact sports, especially football,” Nowinski said. “Of the 13 NFL cases that we’ve completed post-mortem brain studies 12-of-13 had the disease.”
“In pilot studies my brain is not even in the normal category,” he said. “I’m not the same guy. I am probably on borrowed time.”