Faces of Concussions: Football families share lives with CTE
BOSTON (AP) — Jim Hudson’s wife came home one day and found him sitting on a couch, clutching a golf ball, with tears streaming down his face.
The former New York Jets defensive back, a star of the team’s only Super Bowl championship, had played a lot of golf; he was a single-digit handicap at the time. But he was watching the Golf Channel because he had forgotten what the ball in his hand was for, or how to play.
“You watch the life go out of someone’s eyes,” Lise Hudson said.
A college national champion whose interception in the Super Bowl helped clinch the 1968 NFL title for Joe Namath and the Jets, Hudson was among more than 100 former football players diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy in a study published this week.
The disease can cause memory loss, depression, violent mood swings and other cognitive and behavioral issues in those exposed to repetitive head trauma.
Boxers. Members of the military. Football players — including not only Hudson but also Earl Morrall, whose pass he intercepted in Super Bowl III to help seal what is still considered the greatest upset in NFL history.
“I hope it doesn’t kill the game, but that it stops killing the players,” Lise Hudson said. “We’d better get on it and figure it out.”
“He was told, ’Put your head down and go for the guy’s chin and then lift up. Use that head. And he told us those stories even before any of this came out.” -- Rani Lendzion, daughter of Don Paul, a leather helmet-wearing linebacker and center for the Los Angeles Rams.
In the largest update on CTE so far, Boston University and VA researchers reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association on Tuesday that they found signs of the disease in nearly 90 percent of the 200 brains examined, including 110 of 111 from NFL players.
This week, The Associated Press asked the surviving relatives of more than a dozen players involved in the study to describe living and dying with CTE.
These are the people who saw the disease up-close. Some gave up the game. Others just want it to be safer.
“It’s something parents should be discussing with their kids: ‘You’re not going to feel it now, but you’ll feel it later,’” said Scott Gilchrist, the son of Buffalo Bills star Cookie Gilchrist. ”‘Would you like to try golf?’”
“We’re still trying to recover from the financial damage. To say nothing of the loneliness and the sorrow that losing him to this disease has brought, it’s brought a lot of financial distress, also.” -- Kay Morris, wife of Larry Morris, a member of the NFL’s All-1960s team.
John Grimsley died in 2008 at the age of 45 from an accidental gunshot wound. It was a new gun — a Christmas present — and his wife thinks he may have forgotten a bullet was in the chamber.
Virginia Grimsley was at church making funeral arrangements a friend brought her a message from Chris Nowinski, one of the founders of the Concussion Legacy Foundation.
“I looked at her and said, ‘He wants John’s brain doesn’t he?’ And she said, ‘Yeah, he does,’” Grimsley said. “I said, ‘What do I have to sign?’”
“You feel like you got cheated out of some of the best years of your life, not having your father.” -- Ollie Matson Jr., son of the two-time Olympic medalist and a Hall of Fame running back for the Chicago Cardinals, who barely spoke for the last four years before he died.
Lew Carpenter wasn’t just a CTE victim. He was also a carrier of the disease.
A running back who won three NFL championships in a 10-year career with the Lions, Browns and Packers, Carpenter stuck around the sidelines for another 31 years as an assistant coach. He preached what he heard from Hall of Fame coaches like Vince Lombardi: walk it off, or we’ll find someone who can.
“He was promulgating it,” his daughter, Rebecca Carpenter, said: ”‘Rub a little dirt in it. Get back out there. There are 1,000 guys who want your job. Is this the moment that you’re going to choose to be weak, and let everybody down?’
“That’s a distillation of who he was. Not because he’s a (jerk),” she said. “My father really understood something about football at the professional level: You can’t let anybody see your vulnerability, because then you’re dead.”
“I’d be very, very concerned if I was a professional football player who had concussions or head hits and I’m 40 years old and I’m saying, ‘I’m fine.’ That’s not how this movie’s going to end.” -- Mike Keating, whose uncle, Oakland defensive tackle Tom Keating, was diagnosed with CTE.
Add them all up, as Kevin Turner once did for his father, and he probably had more than 100 concussions.
“That’s probably the sad part of it. He’d probably do it again,” Raymond Turner told a reporter at his lakeside home in suburban Montgomery, Alabama.
Kevin Turner died last year at 46.
One room at the house remains filled with memorabilia from his son’s career. Next to the front door hangs a drawing of Kevin in a football jersey, wearing his No. 34.
“He was given this life because he was strong enough to live it,” the inscription read. “And he lived it well.”
Contributing to this report: Pro Football Writers Dave Campbell, Schuyler Dixon, Arnie Stapleton, Teresa M. Walker, and Sports Writers David Ginsburg, Bernie Wilson; Steven Wine and John Zenor.