Legendary running back Gale Sayers has been fighting dementia for several years, his wife told the Kansas City Star.
In a lengthy interview with the Star, Ardie Sayers said her 73-year-old husband was diagnosed with dementia four years ago, and may have been suffering from the condition for years before that. He had been living in a facility until recently when she made the decision to bring him home.
And while an estimated 50 million people around the worldsuffer from dementia, Ardie Sayers says a doctor told her there is a clear link between her husband's NFL career and the condition.
“Like the doctor at the Mayo Clinic said, ‘Yes, a part of this has to be on football,’” Ardie Sayers told the Star.“It wasn’t so much getting hit in the head … It’s just the shaking of the brain when they took him down with the force they play the game in.”
A two-time All American at Kansas, the speedy Sayers (nicknamed the "Kansas Comet") was pickedNo. 4 overall by the Chicago Bears in the 1965 NFL Draft. His rookie record of 22 total touchdowns still stands, and he's the most recent NFL player to score six touchdowns in a game. A four-time first team All-Pro, injuries ended his career after only seven seasons.
Votedinto the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1977, Sayers was ranked No. 22 by the Sporting News on a 1999 list of the greatest NFL players of all time.
Now, the former star struggles with everyday tasks, such as signing his name, and washing his hands; his wife says she recently caught him trying to use carpet cleaner to wash his hands before dinner. Ardie Sayers notes the wife of a former NFL player told her, "Don’t let him out of your sight."
The former star sued the NFL in 2013, alleging the league negligently handled his treatment after head injuries. Sayers claimed he was sent back into games after concussions and saidhe had suffered headaches and short-term memory loss since his retirement. Although Sayers withdrew that suit, he joined in a suit with several other players filed the next year in U.S. District Court in Pennsylvania. The lawsuit claimed Sayers suffered from“loss of memory, dementia, Alzheimer’s, neurological disorder, depression, sleep problems and irritability.”
Ardie Sayers says any financial settlement will go toward her husband's treatment.
“Every dime will be to make sure he’s taken care of the right way and lives as decent and happy of a life as he possibly can," she said.