Tony Dorsett, the Dallas Cowboys’ Hall of Fame running back, received the news he suspected was coming on Monday.
“It hit me like a ton of bricks,” he told the Dallas Morning News on Wednesday, confirming a report by ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” that tests at UCLA show he has signs of chronic encephalopathy, the degenerative brain disease that has been linked to head trauma, depression, dementia and suicide in former NFL players.
Hall of Fame offensive lineman Joe DeLamielleure and former All-Pro defensive lineman Leonard Marshall received the news from researchers after having brain scans and clinical evaluations at UCLA. Another player also was tested, although those results and his identity are not yet available. Last year, UCLA tested five other former players, according to ESPN, and found signs of CTE in all of them. CTE is marked by an abnormal presence of tau protein, which strangles brain cells.
“Don’t ask me what tau protein is because I don’t know exactly what it all is,” Dorsett said. “All I know is that before, [doctors] could only be able to find tau if you die first and they open up your brains.”
Dorsett was part of the recent $765 million settlement between the NFL and more than 4,500 former players. For Dorsett, a Heisman Trophy winner at Pitt who rushed for 12,739 yards over 12 NFL seasons, it wasn’t so much the big knockout hits as the thousands of little ones that many scientists believe may be even more pernicious.
Dorsett, 59, told “Outside the Lines” that his “quality of living has changed drastically and it deteriorates every day.” He gets lost just driving two of his daughters, aged 15 and 10, to their games. More frightening are his temperamental outbursts and his inability to control his emotions.
“It’s painful, man, for my daughters to say they’re scared of me,” he said, pausing as he choked up. “It’s painful.”
Like so many others in a story that is all too common, he has been told he is clinically depressed. And he thinks of the suicides of Junior Seau, Dave Duerson and Ray Easterling.
“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.”
He told the Morning News that he’s facing the diagnosis and fighting it with nutrition. “It’s enlightening to know what I have, what I’m dealing with,” Dorsett said. “Now it’s time to find out, how can we can come back from it? I actually was told [by researchers] that it can be reversed. I was like, ‘What?’ They said, ‘Yeah, it can be reversed, slowed down, stopped.’ I’m like, ‘Oh, okay, so we need to get on out of here and get on that program immediately. …
“I’m being proactive. I’m trying to cut it off at the pass, slow it down, do whatever I can to fight this thing. But it’s tough, man, it’s frustrating as hell at times.”