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Dwight Clark, Football and ALS

Dwight Clark, Football and ALS
Dwight Clark, wide receiver for the San Francisco Forty-Niners, Jan. 9, 1985. Location unknown. Photo: AP Photo

You cannot blame football players of all ages if they felt numb after reading that one-time San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Dwight Clark announced that he was suffering from ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Clark began noticing some symptoms in 2015 and after a series of tests, it was confirmed he had the ailment. Did football contribute to Clark’s disease? Unknown. More research is needed.

The ALS “ice bucket challenge” raised both money and awareness, but does that raised awareness include the football industry? Does the business of football want to know if playing the game which features collisions and blows to the head is causing ALS? Clark is not the first 49ers player to battle the disease.

Three 1960s era players – Matt Hazeltine, Gary Lewis and Bob Waters – had ALS. Waters noted a statistical anomaly that three players out of 144 members of the team between 1962 and 1972 had the disease that affects one in 100,000 people. Waters, who was the head football coach at Western Carolina University in 1986, wanted the NFL and the National Football League Players Association to do research on the disease and did playing football contribute in all three getting ill. Lewis died in 1986. Hazeltine passed away in 1987. Waters died at the age of 50 in 1989 getting no answers.

Clark joins Steve Gleason, Tim Shaw, O. J. Brigance and two players who died, Fred McNeill and Kevin Turner as NFL players with ALS. In 2012, an article in Neurology suggested football players are four times more likely than the general population to get ALS. Will any of the ill players get answers or will the football industry just try and ignore ALS?

By Evan Weiner For The Politics Of Sports Business

This article was republished with permission from the original publisher, Evan Weiner.


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