Last March, former San Francisco 49ers receiver Dwight Clark announced he had been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). In the statement he released at that time, Clark said he suspects playing football was the reason why he was afflicted with the disease.
“I’ve been asked if playing football caused this,” he said in the statement. “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.”
One year later, he’s not backing away from that claim. If anything, he’s more convinced than ever that playing football caused ALS.
“I’m not a scientist or a doctor, but I don’t know how it could not have some effect with all these guys who have it,” Clark said during the 49ers Insider Podcast with Matt Maiocco of NBC Bay Area. “And the league recognizes ALS, Alzheimer’s, dementia and Parkinson’s as diseases that they pay immediately. You give them the documentation that you have that stuff, and they give you a big check.”
Additionally, he wishes the NFL would have made safety a priority earlier than it did.
“Apparently, somebody in the league had reports that was the case,” Clark said. “That’s when I said, ‘Well, if they knew, they should’ve told us.’ That’s my only knock on the league. They should’ve started safety stuff way long ago.”
During the interview, Clark stated that he suffered three bad concussions during the course of his NFL career. He says he lost his vision after one, was unaware of where he was after another and was disoriented, going to the sideline of his opponent on the third.
However, he also says he has no idea how often he “got his bell rung.”
Essentially, because he wasn’t better than other players on the team, Clark felt his job was always in danger so he wouldn’t come out of the game.
“Guys would take my job. So you just kind of shake it off. Plus, back then, that was just football. You get dinged and you go back in or you stay in.”
Thankfully, even though it’s clearly not perfect, the NFL’s concussion protocol is helping to keep players from continuing to play after they’ve been concussed. Though, based on a new study, concussions aren’t the leading contributor to brain diseases like CTE. Instead, the continued act of being hit in the head over and over is the reason why players end up with brain trauma.
And the only way to fix that, as many former players have said, is to not play the game.