Gale Sayers battling dementia, with a familiar refrain: ‘Yes, a part of this has to be on football'

Gale Sayers has been diagnosed with dementia. (AP)
Gale Sayers has been diagnosed with dementia. (AP)

The football world dealt with some horrible news the past few days.

Former San Francisco 49ers great Dwight Clark announced he has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. He suspects football may have played a role in causing the disease. And the family of former Chicago Bears great Gale Sayers went public with the news that Sayers is battling dementia, in a heartbreaking column by Vahe Gregorian of the Kansas City Star.

And in the Sayers story, the family wonders what role football played in his dementia.

“Like the doctor at the Mayo Clinic said, ‘Yes, a part of this has to be on football,’ ” Sayers’ wife Ardie said. “It wasn’t so much getting hit in the head … It’s just the shaking of the brain when they took him down with the force they play the game in.”

Sayers’ wife said he would do it all over again, but the Star’s story said it has been tough for the family to take care of Sayers, who has problems with his memory. The story said when Gregorian talked to the family, Gale Sayers “scarcely spoke during a seven-hour visit.”

“You build memories all your life, and the next thing you know you don’t remember anything,” Sayers’ brother Roger Sayers told the Star. “It’s just tough.”

The story said Sayers was diagnosed with dementia four years ago, though Ardie Sayers believes the onset came years before that. Sayers is one of the most famous figures in football history, a tremendous big-play threat for the Bears whose career was cut short by a knee injuries. Sayers made the Pro Football Hall of Fame despite playing only 68 games. Non-football fans became familiar with him after Billy Dee Williams played Sayers in “Brian’s Song,” a movie that chronicled Sayers’ friendship with Brian Piccolo, who died from cancer at age 26.

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Frank Schwab is the editor of Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!