One of the most celebrated football players of the 1980s, a man who made a single play which helped turn the fortunes of a franchise, now faces a more difficult fight than any on a football field.
Former 49ers wide receiver Dwight Clark, known for “The Catch,” which helped forge a dynasty, announced that he has been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, a degenerative neurological condition with no known cure.
“I have ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease,” he said in a statement, via Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com. “Those words are still very hard for me to say.
“While I’m still trying to wrap my head around the challenge I will face with this disease over the coming years, the only thing I know is that I’m going to fight like hell and live every day to the fullest.”
In his statement, the 60-year-old Clark said he began feeling weakness in his left hand in September 2015. He initially dismissed it as part of the cost of playing football, like the pain in his neck he’s had since he retired. But as other options were dismissed and the possibilities of other diagnoses narrowed, other symptoms have shown up. He said he’s now experiencing weakness in his right hand, abs, lower back and right leg.
“I can’t run, play golf or walk any distances,” he wrote. “Picking up anything over 30 pounds is a chore. The one piece of good news is that the disease seems to be progressing more slowly than in some patients.”
Clark’s not the first football player diagnosed with the disease, with former Saints safety Steve Gleason having documented his battle, and former Titans linebacker Tim Shaw more recently diagnosed.
Clark played nine seasons in the NFL, all with the 49ers. And while he said in his statement he didn’t want to do interviews now, he said he thought the disease was linked to his playing days.
“I’ve been asked if playing football caused this,” he wrote. “I don’t know for sure. But I certainly suspect it did. And I encourage the NFLPA and the NFL to continue working together in their efforts to make the game of football safer, especially as it relates to head trauma. . . .
“I’m not having a press conference or doing any interviews. That time will come. Right now, I’ve got work to do. I’ve got to devote all my energy preparing for this battle and I would hope you can respect my family’s privacy as I begin this challenge. My ultimate hope is that eventually I can assist in finding a cure for ALS, which disrupts the lives of so many and their loved ones.”
If he can do that, he will have achieved something bigger than anything he did on a football field. And what he did there was merely historic.