Former Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins running back Thurman Thomas played 13 years in the National Football League.
He put up nearly 2,900 rush attempts while adding 472 receptions during what ended up being a Hall of Fame career. This means that Thomas was hit thousands of times during his decade-plus in the game.
Now turning 50 years old next month, Thomas recently spoke about the toll his NFL career has taken on him in his post-football life.
It’s some sobering stuff, ladies and gents:
“This is actually the first time I’ve come out and spoken to anyone publicly about this issue,” Thomas recently told the Niagara Falls Review. “I don’t discuss it at home. I don’t really discuss it with my friends. It’s something that I’m really not comfortable talking about because I want to get more facts about it, I want to get more knowledgeable about it.”
Thomas went on to talk about how he felt after suffering the first of many concussions during his career, indicating that while his eyes were still wide open, “everything just went pitch black.”
Anyone who has suffered a concussion knows this feeling. It’s a scary time.
During a recent visit to a doctor, Thomas was given this harsh reality about how his brain looks over 15 years since his retirement from the NFL:
“Similar to someone who has fallen off the top of a house, on to the front of his head, or [someone who went] through a windshield of a car several times. He said that’s ‘decent’ … for an NFL football player who had just played in the National Football League for 13 years. Not great, but decent.”
What’s so alarming is that the explanation Thomas’ doctor gave him isn’t the worst-case scenario. Rather, his brain looked “decent.”
Even in this, Thomas’ post-football life has been impacted a great deal. He details how he gets lost sometimes driving his car, having to pull over to call his wife to pick him up.
These are all signs of Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a condition that has now been well documented around the NFL over the past several years. It’s a progressive degenerative disease that is found in people that have suffered serious blows to the head.
The likes of former NFL linebacker Junior Seau, among others, had this condition when they committed suicide.
Thomas isn’t the only all-time great running back living through this debilitating disease. Former Dallas Cowboys and Denver Broncos ball carrier Tony Dorsett has recently detailed what his post-football life has been like while living with the condition.
Thomas’ experience isn’t limited to just a few former NFL players. It’s a widespread thing that the league has had to deal with over the past several years. It’s also led to questions about how the NFL has handled those suffering through CTE in the past.
More than simply criticizing the NFL for its lack of action on the topic, these comments tell us a story of real-life humans struggling through life after giving everything they had to the game they love.
They are scary stories that need to be told if anything is going to happen on this front moving forward. Otherwise, today’s top running backs will likely be detailing these very same symptoms 10 and 15 years from now.