Pat Summerall, known as George Allen “Pat” Summerall to family and friends, was a famous American football player and sportscaster who worked for CBS, ESPN, and Fox Sports. He passed away in April 2013. And during his career, he was the announcer for 16 NFL Super Bowls, 26 football tournaments, and 21 US Opens.
Recently, his wife Cheri Summerall filed a claim with the NFL on September 8, 2018, as part of unification with other players who are looking for compensation from head trauma endured during their career in the NFL.
Summerall died of cardiac arrest at the age of 82, but his estate claims that he had CTE-related dementia. His dementia was properly diagnosed long before his death and the family is seeking damages for medical treatments. The age of Summerall at the time of his diagnosis, however, makes it unlikely the family will receive high damages. While this might be the case, the family’s lawsuit is only one of many that have been filed against the league.
When asked in an interview why she filed her claim, Mrs. Summerall stated that she filed her lawsuit because it was what her husband would have wanted. She states her husband felt a camaraderie with other players, and that other former players were facing severe financial struggles because of their complications from CTE. Therefore, her lawsuit might help them recover funds as well.
In 2016, the NFL agreed to pay out $1 billion to over 20,000 former NFL stars for concussion-related medical conditions and complications.
Summerall’s attorney states that his client became a plaintiff the day he was diagnosed with dementia.
Summerall’s Career at a Glance
Pat Summerall was a placekicker for ten years in the NFL. It was not until he became a commentator in the 1970s for CBS that he truly gained his fame. Later, he went to work for Fox. Pat and his partner, John Madden, created a dynamic announcing duo.
He was a fourth-round draft pick in 1952 for the Detroit Lions, Chicago Cardinals, and the New York Giants. His broadcasting career started in the 1960s, but his name did not become recognizable in the media until his contracts with CBS began.
What Is Football-Related Dementia?
The lawsuit focuses on the term “football-related dementia,” but what is this type of dementia and how does it differ from other forms?
Football is a heavy contact sport. Anyone that has watched a game would know this just by watching someone tackle another player from the opposing team. It can be violent, there are injuries, and head trauma is one of those predominant injuries.
Only recently did the issue of head trauma in the NFL and other football leagues come to light. Players who have been retired for several decades were being diagnosed with mood disorders, Alzheimer’s, and dementia. It was linked to repeated head trauma in their football career – thus, the term “football dementia.”
Football dementia is not the medical term but the casual term used to describe a person’s altered mental state. In reality, most of the players suffering from this form of dementia are suffering from CTE.
CTE, Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (once called “dementia pugilistica”) is a neurodegenerative disease of the brain. It only occurs in victims of multiple head traumas, such as concussions from football.
CTE comes with a vast spectrum of symptoms, and many of these symptoms do not appear until years after the injuries – often years after a player retires from football. Most documented cases come from contact sports, including football, rugby, and soccer.
CTE and Dementia: How These Are Often Confused for One Another
When you hear that someone is diagnosed with football-related dementia, he or she is referring to CTE. Unfortunately, CTE shares similar symptoms to Alzheimer’s, dementia, and even Parkinson’s Disease. Therefore, in most cases, it is misdiagnosed as one of those rather than CTE.
Recently, physicians have become more attuned to the fact that CTE is real and common. Therefore, when analyzing football players and even veterans, they look at the possibility that their dementia is related to head trauma.
Dementia from CTE is not the first symptom, which is why Summerall’s condition was not diagnosed until he was much older. Likely he suffered from other symptoms of CTE along with other complications, but only when he was diagnosed with dementia were the two connected.
CTE was initially known as the “punch drunk syndrome,” and it was most commonly diagnosed in boxers. The risk in the sport of boxing is high, but now doctors and researchers have acknowledged that any contact sport or repeated head trauma (such as domestic violence) can result in CTE, too.
CTE can only be diagnosed upon death. However, symptoms will appear as the victim gets older, and they mimic other conditions – which is why it is commonly misdiagnosed.
Some symptoms associated with CTE include:
- Memory loss
- Personality changes that are unexplained
- Severe depression or anxiety
- Balance and motor skill complications
- Difficulty organizing thoughts or paying attention
- Erratic, aggressive behavior
CTE operates like Alzheimer’s, which generates too much of the Tau protein in the brain and eventually decreases the number of healthy cells in the brain.
How Many Football Players Have Had CTE?
The number of high-profile players with CTE continues to grow. While most of these diagnoses cannot be made until death, there are scans and indicators that a living victim could have CTE as well.
Currently, Boston University is working on research to help provide better insight into CTE, like early detection scans. In one study of 91 deceased NFL players, they found that 87 brains had CTE.
Just some of the NFL players who were diagnosed with CTE include:
- Ken Stabler: Ken Stabler died of colon cancer in July 2015 at the age of 69. He donated his brain to CTE research, and it was found that he suffered from stage 3 chronic CTE.
- Tyler Sash: Tyler Sash, former Iowa football player, was a safety for the New York Giants for two seasons before he was found dead from an accidental overdose at only 27 years old in September 2015. It was in January 2016 that his family announced he was positive for CTE, and it was one of the earliest diagnosis of a CTE victim.
- Frank Gifford: Frank Gifford played for the New York Giants for 12 years before he became a famous TV sports commentator. He died in 2015 at the age of 83, and it was revealed in November that same year that he too had CTE. His family suspected as much because he exhibited symptoms of a degenerative disorder.
- Mike Webster: Mike Webster, known as “Iron Mike,” played for the Steelers and took them to four Super Bowl wins. He had depression and dementia and died at the young age of only 50 years old. It was concluded that his brain suffered from the equivalent of 25,000 automobile accidents in his 25 years of playing football.
- Dave Duerson: Duerson died at the age of 50 in February 2011. He texted his wife asking her to donate his brain, and his family obliged his request. It was found that he had indisputable evidence of CTE upon autopsy.
- Chris Henry: Henry’s death occurred at only 26 years of age when he fell out of a truck during a dispute. Upon examination, it was discovered he suffered from CTE. This was surprising because he was not frequently struck during the games. Furthermore, his age was a shocking realization that even a few minor strikes on the field could result in someone at only 26 suffering from a degenerative, serious brain disease.
- Justin Strzelczyk: As an offensive lineman for the Steelers, he died when he was only 36 years old in 2004 in a high-speed, police chase crash. There were no signs of drugs or alcohol in his system at the time of the accident, and his family donated his brain to Boston University for research. It was found that he had CTE as well and that his chase from the police might have been part of the disease.
- Terry Long: Terry Long played from 1984 to 1991 and died at only 45 years of age in 2005. He committed suicide by drinking antifreeze. The Brain Injury Research Institute at Boston University concluded that his CTE was advanced enough that it may have contributed to his suicidal thoughts.
- Andre Waters: Waters was one of the hardest hitting defensive backs while playing for the Eagles. He, too, committed suicide at only 44 years old in 2006. It was determined that his brain tissue degenerate to the equivalent of an 85-year old’s brain. Had he lived another decade, researchers say he would have been fully incapacitated.
- John Grimsley: Grimsley died at the age of 45 in 2008. His brain had enough damage to mimic that of a 73-year-old suffering from advanced Alzheimer’s disease.
- Junior Seau: Seau was one of the fiercest NFL players in history. He committed suicide in May 2013, and the National Institutes of Health’s brain injury study revealed that he had abnormalities consistent with CTE.
- Ray Easterling: Former Atlanta Falcons safety, Ray Easterling, died at 62 when he committed suicide in April 2012. He suffered from depression, insomnia, and dementia according to family members. It was later confirmed that he had CTE, which most likely contributed to his altered mental status and ultimately his suicide.
- Ralph Wenzel: Wenzel played as a guard for the Steelers and Chargers, and he died from complications of dementia in 2012. His wife reported that he had early-onset dementia as early as 1995. His condition was so serious that he no longer could teach or coach. His brain was reviewed by the Boston University team, and it was confirmed that he too had CTE.
- Aaron Hernandez: One of the most infamous cases of CTE was former NFL star, Aaron Hernandez. Hernandez was arrested and convicted of murder. Days after being convicted of the double homicide, he committed suicide in his cell. His convictions were vacated and upon autopsy, it was found that he suffered from severe CTE. Some speculate that his CTE was the reason for his overly aggressive and murderous behavior.
Do You Suspect That You Are the Victim of Football-Related Dementia?
While CTE cannot be diagnosed officially until autopsy, those who have football-related dementia have the right to hold the NFL and minor leagues accountable.
You and your loved ones can file a suit to recoup costs for medical expenses, lost wages, and the effect CTE has on your quality of life.