Tony Dorsett, Joe DeLamielleure, and Leonard Marshall were all tested for CTE at UCLA (which is working on developing a test for living subjects). All have been told that they have signs of the disease that is at the center of the brain injury discussion with former football players.
Dorsett, 59 years old, is a Hall of Fame running back who played from 1977 to 1988, almost entirely with the Dallas Cowboys. He is 8th all-time in career rushing yards. DeLamielleure, 62, is a Hall of Fame offensive guard who played 13 seasons with the Bills and Browns and is famous for blocking for O.J. Simpson during his record-setting year. Leonard Marshall, 52, played 12 years in the league, and won two Super Bowls with the New York Giants.
Dorsett claims memory loss, depression, and thoughts of suicide. On the flight to Los Angeles to undergo the testing, he struggled with remembering why he was on the plane and where he was going.
This revelation comes less than 24 hours after the NFL circulated an e-mail entitled “The Top 5 Myths About NFL Players.” That e-mail included references to a study that I broke down last year. NFL players did live longer than the general population among those studied. As I noted then, though, that is largely because they are healthier, non-smokers, and the mortality rates for things like diabetes, lung disease, and cancer were far below the population average.
That e-mail also references suicides. “When the NFLPA asked NIOSH to look at more than 3,000 retired league veterans, the researchers found nine suicides rather than the 22 they might have expected to find. NFL players commit suicide at less than half the rate of other American men.”
As I pointed out earlier, that study included only players that started in the NFL before 1984, and that were deceased prior to the cut-off date in 2007. That means that any player that started before 1984 but committed suicide after 2007 (such as Duerson or Easterling), or any player that started in the league since then (including Seau and a host of others) are not included in the number.
Refuting myths with myths is not a good sign. I count 14 suicides that are not included in that number because of those end points. I doubt the timing of that release was coincidental.
We do not know where we are with the brain injury stuff, how prevalent or isolated these stories will be, and where it will compare with baselines in the population, and that is what is scary. There hasn’t been enough time to evaluate what players will be experiencing who were at the outset of the modern NFL, with the new passing rules in the 1970’s, and the rapid increase in the size of players. Players like Dorsett, DeLamielleure, and Marshall are at the outset of that generation, just like recent players who committed suicide, like Easterling and Duerson, were.