Tony Dorsett, the Hall of Fame running back with the Dallas Cowboys, has symptoms of CTE, a buildup of tau, an abnormal protein that strangles brain cells in areas that control memory, emotions and other functions.
Dorsett, 59, speaking on ESPN’s Outside The Lines, said he has experienced memory loss, depression and thoughts of suicide.
Scarily, the former superstar said that when he took his Oct. 21 flight from Dallas to Los Angeles for testing, he repeatedly struggled to remember why he was aboard the plane and where he was going. Such episodes, he said, are commonplace when he travels.
Autopsies of more than 50 ex-NFL players, including Hall of Famer Mike Webster and perennial All-Pro Junior Seau, who committed suicide last year, found such tau concentrations. Doctors told Dorsett on Monday that tests revealed he has the symptoms of CTE or chronic traumatic encephalopathy.
Dorsett said he also gets lost when he drives his two youngest daughters, ages 15 and 10, to their soccer and volleyball games. “I’ve got to take them to places that I’ve been going to for many, many, many years, and then I don’t know how to get there,” he said.
But there is more. Emotional outbursts occur frequently enough that his wife and daughters are afraid of the 1976 Heisman Trophy winner.
“It’s painful, man, for my daughters to say they’re scared of me.” After a long pause, he tearfully reiterated, “It’s painful.”
Dorsett said doctors have told him he is clinically depressed.
“I’ve thought about crazy stuff, sort of like, ‘Why do I need to continue going through this?'” he said. “I’m too smart of a person, I like to think, to take my life, but it’s crossed my mind.”
“I’m trying to slow this down or cut it off,” said Dorsett. “I’m going to be 60 years old here next year, so I’m hoping that I’ve got another good 30 years or so.”
CTE is a disease with no known cure, but Dorsett said he was seeking answers to explain his cognitive and emotional difficulties. “I want to know if this is something that has come about because of playing football.”
Dorsett’s 12-year playing career ended a quarter-century ago, and he said he doesn’t know how many concussions he suffered, but that they were numerous and he believes their consequences are, too. “My quality of living has changed drastically and it deteriorates every day,” he said.