Former Chargers, 49ers LB Steve Hendrickson in cognitive decline

The stories keep piling up, at an alarming rate.

And reading the individual tales of heartbreak adds to the collective sense of dread at what’s coming next.

Former Chargers and 49ers linebacker Steve Hendrickson is suffering from a host of cognitive problems that he relates directly to his football career.

“I can remember material I had before the concussions,” Hendrickson told Howard Yune of “Twenty years ago seems so clear to me, but yesterday seems just —- far away, foggy.”

That short-term memory loss is among a host of problems for the 45-year-old Hendrickson, who hasn’t been able to work for six years, and was divorced a year ago.

He was mostly a special teams player in the NFL, and earned a reputation for toughness at an early age. But playing through a separated shoulder in a high school game is one thing. Playing through more serious injuries may have put him in his current position.

Hendrickson estimated he sustained at least 20 concussions while playing football at Cal and in seven years in the NFL. But he said there were never many questions along the way.

“They never even questioned you, and I never questioned it,” he said. “They’d tell me how I got [the concussions] but never said it was some bad thing or that I should sit out. And when you cover kickoffs like I did, you’ll get a few, especially with the helmets they had then.”

Hendrickson, whose career ended in 1995, said his problems began in his 30s, when his memory began to fail and he’d go through “these states where I’d be comatose two or three days, unable to move.”

While the Social Security Administration accepted his disability claim in 2007 citing trauma-related brain damage, he’s been frustrated by the NFL’s pension plan, which designated him disabled by “non-football causes.”

Asked if his football career was worth it, Hendrickson said: “Living the life, it wasn’t a great life. You’re a piece of meat, there one day and gone the next. And it might cost you your brain.”

So far, he’s not among the thousands of former players joining concussion-related lawsuits. But there are enough tales like his, not all of them on a court docket, to realize this is a looming storm for the NFL.

(Photo credit: Napa Register)

22 responses to “Former Chargers, 49ers LB Steve Hendrickson in cognitive decline

  1. 13 concussions in college and 7 in the NFL. His career should have ended in college because the damage was already done. Don’t blame the NFL….

  2. So if he admits to all the concussions in college would that hinder a case against the NFL?

  3. It appears as though the only prospect for the future offered to NFL draft picks, will be a doozy of a Hobson’s choice: DEMENTIA, take it or leave it!! It is difficult to imagine how anyone or any organization will be able to remove this terrible reality from the equation without severely and dramatically changing the structure of the game as it is now played. Regardless how one views football, the human brain cannot be subjected to continual trauma without catastrophic outcomes. For that matter, all the above could potentially pertain to the NCAA and even extent to the high school level. It’s TRULY a daunting situation .

  4. If that’s a picture of a 45 year old guy, there’s got to be more going on health-wise than concussions.

  5. My mother can remember what she did on trips to the cabin 30 years ago but can’t remember what she had for breakfast this morning. Obviously it’s due to football concussions!

  6. For all the second guessers – the cumulative effect of concussions in today’s football game (read – since say the mid to late 60’s – when players became much bigger/used steroids, weight trained at an early age, etc) – is just now starting to be understood.

    Even more recently – in Hendrickson’s day – as he says – nobody really asked/cared about consussions (It’s Ok Coach – he had his bell rung but will be fine in a few minutes and we will get him back in there soon…….) and neither did the players want to make a big deal of it as they wanted to play, and yes, get paid.

  7. The concussion issue will get worse before it gets better. The stigma around sharing these health issues is thankfully going away and hopefully we will have a safer NFL with just as much exitement.

  8. Some people are so dumb. This guy only has one big problem with the NFL and it is a legitimate one. His pension plan calls him disabled by “non-football causes”????

    Honestly, it doesn’t matter if the players would have played if they knew the risks anyways. Almost all the lawsuits are to make the NFL change it’s ways. Simply put, now that the NFL has better science to rely on for what has happened through brain injury as a result of playing football, the pension plans should be ammended to make sure these men that we cheered for and supported are taken care of. Remember that many players didn’t make the money of today. Also, remember that the NFL makes more money now than ever. Move some of the money from the players playing now into a pot for retired players. Seems like a simple plan, don’t know why it’s not moving forward.

  9. duanethomas says:
    Jul 2, 2012 9:44 AM
    13 concussions in college and 7 in the NFL. His career should have ended in college because the damage was already done. Don’t blame the NFL….

    Where does it say he got 13 concussions in college and 7 in the NFL? Am I reading a different article than you?

  10. The NFL should be ASHAMED of itself. All the money that’s being made and they can’t help out a guy who was a true warrior. To paraphrase Confucius, laws do not lead to correct behavior, just avoiding laws; while cultivating the person and installing a sense of virtue causes people to act correctly out of shame.

    Shame on you NFL, you have no virtue.

  11. Asked if his football career was worth it, Hendrickson said: “Living the life, it wasn’t a great life. You’re a piece of meat, there one day and gone the next. And it might cost you your brain.”

    Nonetheless, he CHOSE to play. No one held a gun to his head and made him sign a contract. And don’t tell me that he didn’t know the dangers of playing.

  12. May be a looming storm for the NFL, but their lawyers and fixers in the courts will make all of it go away and screw the players. The most teflon of all teflon mega-corporations is the NFL. Why, because the customers are brainwashed into supporting it above the men they considered their Sunday heroes. I can see the posts now….the players chose to play the game…. the NFL gave them a great living…blah, blah.

  13. Really sad story. I followed his career from college to the pros and was impressed by his ability to make the most out of his talent. Guys were bigger and faster than him, but none had a bigger drive to succeed. Now he’s paying the price for that drive . I hope for his and his family’s sake he gets some help.

    Remember folks, he’s still a human being with a family.

  14. Theres a couple of ways to avoid head concussions. #1, take away the helmits, and no longer use them. #2 Stop playing football. Convert the NFL into a flag football league.
    Yes, tongue firmly planted in cheek. But what is the answer? No hard tackling, uncle Rodger has already taken away hits to the head using a helmit, or no leading with the head, but how can u tackle with a shoulder without the head, somehow coming along for the ride? Concussions are here to stay as long as large, fast men continue to tackle, and block other large fast men.
    And NFL players are NOT my heros. My heros are finally coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan.

  15. Sorry but, he did choose to play, nobody forced him. Sorry but you live in America not China. Capitolisim not Socialisim is what rules the day here. The Owners own a business, the NFL runs a conglmarate. The Players make millions. Unions are good but after a point they ruin things. What about the current players giving up 5 million in cap space a year to go to retired players that didnt make that kind of money. ONE LAST WORD. HOCKEY

  16. Darin, thank you for sharing Steve’s story more widely. Given how many people who knew him as a younger man were shocked to learn of his condition, I do hope the awareness helps get him some of the help he will need.

    I am the author of the original article that published June 24. Two details to clarify: the full name of the newspaper is the Napa Valley Register, and the website is no longer but My article, titled “Was it worth it?”, will be on the site; look for the area marked “Special Reports.”

    Again, thanks to you and Pro Football Talk for helping call attention to Steve and others like him.

    Howard Yune

  17. This is so INCREDIBLY EASY to fix (or drastically reduce) that I can’t believe it has not already happened. Probably after the NFL loses enough money in lawsuits. Put padding on the OUTSIDE of the helmets like 49ers OT Steve Wallace or Buffalo Bills S Mark Kelso used to wear, or incorporate it into the helmet. Even a one centimeter thickness would greatly reduce the g-forces generated in a collision.

  18. I went to high school with Steve, this breaks my heart. I feel guilty as a member of his graduating class of 1985 that I did not keep in contact with someone whom I considered a friend. We sat next to each other in a couple of classes our Senior year and I would do his homework for him…what a little stinker! But there was something about that grin and blue eyes that just melted me.

    Seriously people, it is not about the sport…he made the choice to play football and things like this happen all the time within other contact sports. I have been a lover of the WWE/WWF all my life and have seen many first hand injuries. Steve Hendrickson was and is a legend and he should be considered more then just someone with your typical football injury.

    I am going to do whatever it takes to try and reach out to my old friend.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Not a member? Register now!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.