All-American retired football player, Tony Dorsett recalls a 1984 game against the Philadelphia Eagles when he was streaking up the field and an opposing player slammed into him. One helmet plowed into another.
Dorsett’s head snapped back, his helmet was knocked askew.
“He blew me up,” Dorsett said. “I don’t remember the second half of that game, but I do remember that hit.” Dorsett compared the hit to a freight train hitting a Volkswagen. That may explain his recent behavior nearly 20 years later.
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These days Dorsett is worried about the cumulative effects of hits like the one Ray Ellis laid on him that day. In the past two years, Dorsett’s memory has given him increasing trouble. Doctors at UCLA told Dorsett, 59, he has chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, the Hall of Famer said. CTE is a progressive degenerative brain disease found in some athletes with a history of repetitive brain trauma. The only way to definitely diagnose CTE is after death, by analyzing brain tissue and finding microscopic clumps of an abnormal protein called tau, which has been found in the brains of dozens of former NFL players.
However, a pilot study at UCLA may have found tau in the brains of living retired players. Some scientists say finding the disease in the brains provides a means to diagnose and treat it, and the UCLA study may be an important first step.
Dorsett said the diagnosis explains a lot about his forgetting where he is driving and his mood swings. “Memory loss, more so than anything it’s been my big deal,” he said. “Sometimes you can have sensitivity to light and things like that. But my thing was not remembering. I’ve been taking my daughters to practice for years and all of a sudden I forget how to get there.” His daughters are afraid, he said. They wonder which father they will get. Will he be the happy dad or the one in a bad mood.