Gale Sayers, who in 1977 became the youngest player ever enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, has been battling dementia.
In a lengthy, in-depth interview with Sayers’ wife, Vahe Gregorian of the Kansas City Star reports Sayers was diagnosed with dimentia four years ago, and that its onset could date back to as early as 2009. Gregorian adds that while his family had made no secret of Sayers’ condition, it had not been shared publicly. With the family sharing details now, it allows them to quell rumors of what had been troubling Sayers, 73, for the last few years.
Sayers sued the NFL and helmet-maker Riddell in 2013 for failing to prevent head injuries, saying he suffered through headaches, occasional short-term memory loss and other symptoms linked to CTE after a playing career in which he claimed he suffered undocumented concussions during training camps, practices and games. He eventually withdrew from the suit, but later joined another suit in which he claimed he suffered from memory loss, depression, sleep problems, and dementia, among other head-related issues.
At the time, he was the 39th Pro Football Hall Of Famer to sue the NFL over concussions, according to the Washington Times.
Sayers was a first-round pick (fourth overall) in the 1965 draft and played for Chicago from 1965-71. He rushed for 4,956 yards and scored 56 touchdowns in his career. There were 39 on rushes, nine more on receptions, six off kick returns and two via returned punts. Sayers lead the NFL in scrimmage yards with 1,678 in 1966, and led the league in rushing twice (1,231 yards in 1966; 1,032 in 1969). He was a five-time first-team All-Pro, and four-time Pro Bowler, whose career was cut short due to a left knee injury.
When he was a college star at Kansas, Sayers racked up 3,073 scrimmage yards in three seasons.
Sayers’ friendship with teammate Brian Piccolo – who died of cancer in 1970 – was detailed in Sayers’ autobiography “I Am Third” and eventually turned into the movie “Brian’s Song.”