Purdy: After Clark’s diagnosis, NFL must get serious about potential ALS link – The Mercury News

It’s cruel. It’s horrible. The hands that made the most famous catch in 49ers history — maybe the most famous catch in NFL history — are losing their feeling. The hands don’t work well enough to even reach up and grab a Nerf football.

It’s cruel. It’s horrible. Dwight Clark can no longer play golf or complete a basketball layup. Clark revealed Sunday night that he is suffering from ALS, the same disease that struck down Lou Gehrig and has darkly visited so many other athletes over the years. There is no cure for ALS. There is no way to stop it from switching off the function levers to someone’s own body, little by little, day by day.

    It’s cruel. It’s horrible. Clark carried around the secret of his diagnosis for many months, which must have been agonizing for someone so outgoing and accessible. He finally began to tell his closest friends and former teammates. And at last, the public. Every step of that process must have been difficult to the nth degree.

So, yes, we can agree it’s all cruel and horrible. The question is: What are we supposed to do when we finish saying it’s all cruel and is horrible?

Clark has provided one suggestion. It’d be nice if someone listened to him.

“I’ve been asked if playing football caused this,” Clark wrote in his open letter to the public. “I don’t know for sure. But I certainly suspect it did. And I encourage the NFLPA and the NFL to continue working together in their efforts to make the game of football safer, especially as it relates to head trauma.”

Now it’s up to the football establishment to underline those words. Then repurpose them in bold print.

Over the past few years, the NFL has created some concussion initiatives to try and reduce their frequency. One is called the.”88 Plan,” which provides financial reimbursement for care costs of vested players who diagnoses of dementia,  ALS, or Parkinson’s disease. But the league has never focused specifically on the potential links between football and dementia. Or football and ALS. Or football and various other neurological terrors. The league has also never specifically raised barrels of money to research ALS cures or treatments. Neither has the NFLPA, the players’ union.

My suspicion?  Lawyers are advising the league not to get too close to the ALS flame, for fear of creating a liability disaster.  And perhaps the NFLPA fears that it it acknowledges the possible links now, former members might sue the union for not better informing them of the risks in past seasons.

Well, screw all that. Clark is one of the 49ers’ most popular all-time players. He has been one of his sport’s best ambassadors. He is suffering. He is asking a favor. It is time for the football establishment to acknowledge and demonstrate that it (A) is truly concerned about the game being a possible contributor to the disease and (B) can take the lead role in funding a massive research campaign to seek a cure for ALS.


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Of course, if no definitive study has conclusively tabbed football as an ALS trigger, why would the NFL take such a step, if no definitive study has absolutely and conclusively tabbed football as an ALS trigger?  Simply because it’s the right thing to do morally. Plus, even if there is no provable link on the front end, the back end data is grim. At least one credible research paper revealed that professional football players are four times more likely to die of ALS than the general population. This circumstantial evidence goes back decades. Three 49ers players from the team’s 1964 roster–Bob Waters, Matt Hazeltine and Gary Lewis–all died of the extremely rare disease.  How can that be a coincidence?

Your heart aches for all  ALS patients, as it does for Clark.  But as he confonts his future, he will receive as much moral and physical support as any ALS patient, ever.  His old 49ers teammates and former owner Eddie DeBartolo are already jumping aboard the support train. Having covered those 49ers teams of the 1980’s, I know how tight their bond was. That can matter. Former New Orleans safety Steve Gleason is in his sixth year of living with ALS, helped by his former locker room brothers. The amazing Charlie Wedemeyer, the Los Gatos High School football coach, lived more than 30 years after his ALS diagnosis thanks to extraordinary sacrifices by his family, the ongoing love he felt from former players and his own remarkable will to keep going.

Wedemeyer, incidentally, was a great college football player at Michigan State. So there’s another anecdotal connection to the sport.  But the NFL people are correct in saying that it’s not just football athletes who have been struck by the disease. Catfish Hunter, the Hall of Fame pitcher who won three World Series with the A’s, also died of the disease. Many of the women who make up 40 percent of ALS patients have not played sports at all. On the other hand, soccer players are more prone to develop ALS. Speculation is that all those “headers” take a toll.

 

Yet for all that, nothing creates more skull violence than football. The same weekend that Clark went public with his diagnosis, the family of Hall of Fame runner Gale Sayers announced that the 73-year-old former running back is suffering from dementia. He joins a list of  numerous other former NFL players with the same issue, including Tony Dorsett and Jim McMahon.

Anyone who has met Clark over the years knows how approachable and amiable he is. He’s made a lot of people feel happy over the years.  Now, in Clark’s time of need, he is merely asking for return considerations.  There should be a way to meeti his request.

For example? What if  NFL owners and NFLPA agreed to a rule stipulating that the first five thousand dollars of every NFL contract, right off off the top, went to an “ALS Cure” fund, that would be excellent. If the first few million of the money received by owners for network television rights went into the same fund, that would also be good. What if luxury suite occupants were given the option of paying 10 percent of their lease or rental not to the team, but to a fund that researched a cure for ALS or Alzheimer’s/dementia? The downside is a little less revenue to the owners and players and a little more revenue for the cause of healthy brains. Is that really a downside?

Clark has some tough years ahead. If he wakes up every day knowing that he spurred the NFL and NFLPA into a new attack level against the disease he’s fighting, that would surely be a good thing for him–and a bad thing for ALS.. It’s cruel. It’s horrible. It doesn’t have to win forever.

.

 

 

Purdy: After Clark’s diagnosis, NFL must get serious about potential ALS link – The Mercury News

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