Former NFL offensive lineman Ralph Wenzel, whose battle with dementia pushed him to the fore of the current player safety debate, died Monday.
The 69-year-old Wenzel died from complications of dementia, according to his wife, Dr. Eleanor Perfetto, via the New York Times.
Only in recent years has the NFL been willing to admit the possibility of a link between head injuries and dementia, and recent years have seen an increase in player-safety measures.
Wenzel was a guard for the Steelers and Chargers from 1966 to 1973, and he began having memory lapses and other problems in 1995 at age 52. His condition deteriorated to the point he could no longer work, communicate or feed himself, and he was placed into a home for dementia patients in 2006.
His wife pushed his case as an example of the long-term effects of head trauma, saying he told her he suffered “more [concussions] than I can count.” She also confronted NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell when he excluded her from a meeting of retired players, and she testified to a House Judiciary Committe hearing on head injuries in football in 2009.
His brain will be donated to Boston University to test for chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative problem caused by repetitive head trauma.
Our condolences go to his family and friends, with the hope that his struggles help in some way to create a safer game for generations to come.