49ers legend Dwight Clark announces he has ALS


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.

22 responses to “49ers legend Dwight Clark announces he has ALS

  1. My wife’s mother passed away from ALS this last year. It was a difficult 2-year struggle for their family, and a way to go that I wouldn’t wish on anyone.

  2. dabears2485 says:
    Mar 20, 2017 5:57 AM
    My wife’s mother passed away from ALS this last year. It was a difficult 2-year struggle for their family, and a way to go that I wouldn’t wish on anyone.

    As a person who lost my father to ALS I can attest. Now that another player has been diagnosed with this I have to think head trauma has to have been involved. I’m sure the studies haven’t been done yet cause ALS can be misdiagnosed as other things until its too late but in the end there’s nothing a person can do. My father got dinged in the head quite a few times as a young man. He had a brick fall on his head cracking his skull, he grew up on a farm where I’m sure he had his noodle smacked a few times. It’s gotta be the worst disease I have ever seen. I mean cancer sucks but with cancer death usually occurs rather quickly and there are ways if caught early enough that you may make it through. ALS as u well know wastes the person away. My dad was always a stocky man 5’6″ 190 pounds thick and strong. When he died he was 5’3″ 75 pounds. Skin on bone. Its awful I hope Mr. Clark can use his resources to get treatment to slow it even further.

  3. Tragic news but it helps medical researchers figure out a possible cause for this disease that may not be caused by genetics. If someone can get the disease playing sports, that means there may well be a cure if they can find the cause.

  4. coronalt says:
    Mar 20, 2017 7:28 AM
    Let’stand not forget Kevin Turner who passed away from ALS in the past year. Terrible news for Mr. Clark.
    jcthree3303 says:
    Mar 20, 2017 7:49 AM
    Now that another player has been diagnosed with this I have to think head trauma has to have been involved.
    Btw, Turner’s post-mortem announced he actually died from CTE and not from ALS (and the CTE caused the ALS symptoms). Anyway, awful news for Clark – my best wishes to him. But blaming this on football or any head-trauma is at best problematic. Firstly, in at least some cases there’s a known genetic cause, and secondly, other causes involve chemical cell mutations and cell toxins leading to incorrect proteins on nerve fibres, and so players’ drugs (proper or improper) could be a cause. But thirdly, the incidence of ALS among players is not much greater than the whole population. A complicating factor is CTE – which, given Kevin Turner’s case, may in fact be causing ALS symptoms and be diagnosed as ALS (CTE can only be 100% confirmed post-mortem). Anyone linking head-trauma to ALS should strongly consider undiagnosed CTE.

  5. As a Cowboys fan for more than 50 years, “The Catch” is the low point in my fandom. However, I wouldn’t wish this on anybody. Sincere sympathies go out to the Clark family. Sometimes, life just isn’t fair.

  6. It’s horrible anyone gets this. Dwight’s class during the 49er dynasty days brought a lot of joy to the fans. Seemed like he was always open and never dropped a pass yet wasn’t fast or quick. Awesome.

  7. More circumstantial evidence that the violence of football has increased beyond the ability to protect the brain from damage. Football needs to fix that or it won’t last much longer.

  8. Isn’t this the 3rd or 4th San Fran 49ers player from the 80’s to get ALS??? Absolutely unbelievable…

    I dx’d my aunt with it before her neuro did… At the time she couldn’t use her hands and was tripping over foot when walking… She died less than 2 years later.. This disease is no joke..

  9. Dwight has been a model of a man to look up to as opposed to so many others in the NFL who are an embarrassment to themselves, to their families and friends. He is a true role model. Simply too few today.

    Just read the tributes from those who he played with, his owner and friends in the industry.

    Yet, today, it is not about character what so ever. Men grab their crotch, flip off fans, can’t stop beating on women, drugs, DUI’s on and on. And we lavish praise on their spending a few dollars in the community, to assuage the public persona as if that makes them righteous.

    The owners, they will pay anyone who can produce, caring little or not at all on who is influencing our children, even their own grandchildren.

    Owners, or an organisation known to cheat, and when they win, they are called the greatest? Their team signs a guy who has three or for recorded alcohol incidents with the law and because they win, sports writers will not criticise them?

    Second chances have become popular with the pretext of everyone makes a mistake. How is it a “mistake” when a man hits a woman in the face? It is a criminal act, not a mere mistake and then the cover it up until it is exposed? That is the modern sports environment today.

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