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Hard Knocks: Does Playing in NFL Cause Brain Trauma?

A House committee heard testimony from medical experts in October, as well as NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to determine whether professional football contributes to brain diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer's. Ray Suarez reports.

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  • WOMAN:

    Got his Hall of Fame jacket on and smiling, huh.


    John Mackey probably doesn't remember the NFL Hall of Fame jacket he gave away when dementia first gripped him a decade ago. But with the help of his wife, Sylvia, he tries to enjoy moments of nostalgia for his days a pro football receiver in the '60s and early '70s.

    Today, the Hall of Famer, just 68 years old, is in assisted living, complete with a beeping security system to stop confused residents from wandering off.

    Are there good days and bad days?


    Yes, and great days and not-so-great days.


    On the good days, how is it different from — from what we're seeing now from Mr. Mackey?


    He will get up and walk up and down. He can — he will throw and catch the ball. Actually, today would be a good day if it weren't for the myoclonic twitching. They call it a myoclonic jerk.


    And speech?


    He doesn't talk anymore, very rarely.


    Mackey was diagnosed with dementia when he was just 60. His wife believes a career in the NFL left him with chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, a degenerative brain disease. She became convinced of this as John declined and when she noticed more and more former NFL players expressing similar mental illness.


    Every year, he would go back to the Hall of Fame ceremony, and, every year that I went back, I noticed that more and more players — and these were Hall of Fame guys — had dementia.

    And I — this was after he was diagnosed. I was so taken aback by it. And I thought, there's something wrong with this picture. It's just too much of a common thread right here in this small group. And I said, if 260 — out of 260 players, if I can see four or five who have been diagnosed, and I'm hearing about others who seem that they will need to be diagnosed in the future, then there are plenty out — of retired players out there who must have it.

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