Gale Sayers’ family describes his struggle with dementia

Getty Images

Gale Sayers is 73 years old, and still looks well.

But his family knows better.

In a moving story by Vahe Gregorian of the Kansas City Star, the family of the legendary Bears running back describes his battle with dementia, saying he’s still physically strong but struggling with many daily activities.

“That brain controls everything, doesn’t it?” said his wife, Ardie Sayers.

His wife described the vigilance required to care for Sayers now, noting that he recently tried washing his hands with carpet cleaner. She said another NFL wife told her: “Don’t let him out of your sight.”

“It keeps you on your toes,” she said.

The story describes Sayers as able to have “halting” conversations, but noted that he barely spoke during a seven-hour visit with a reporter.

“You build memories all your life, and the next thing you know you don’t remember anything,” his brother Roger Sayers said. “It’s just tough.”

Sayers sued the NFL in 2014, saying concussions led to problems including: “loss of memory, dementia, Alzheimer’s, neurological disorder, depression, sleep problems and irritability.”

33 responses to “Gale Sayers’ family describes his struggle with dementia

  1. Guys like Gayle Sayers & Bobby Orr always make me wonder had they had the advantages of modern medical procedures, how much more they would have produced in their already prolific careers…..

  2. Getting old sucks. Luckily if you played in the NFL you can blame them for it.

  3. snake11s says:
    Mar 20, 2017 7:15 AM

    The question is would you trade the issues being brought on maybe by old age for the money you made playing football?
    Former Eagle and Patriot Kevin Turner died from CTE at age 46 in 2016, but had this to say in 2011:

    “If they would have come to me and said, ‘I’ve seen the future. This is what happens,’ of course, I would stop playing immediately.”

  4. Sayers first 4 seasons paid him 100 thousand dollars total or 25000 a season. Good money for that time period yes however insurance wasn’t what it is now and players had to come out of pocket for a lot more back then than they do now.

    Using hindsight he’d probably give up the 100grand to have his memory intact.

  5. Met the man at a USO event in Afghanistan about 10 years ago. Really liked him.

    When he came on stage, all the soldiers stood up and gave him a standing ovation. He promptly got on the mike and said “Y’all sit the hell down, I’m just a football player.” Loved the humility.

    Got me a Gale Sayers autographed football out of it too 🙂

  6. Using hindsight he’d probably give up the 100grand to have his memory intact.
    The guy is 73, don’t lot’s of older people have these issues never playing the game?

  7. Yet we still see current football players banging their helmet-clad heads against their teammates’ helmet-clad heads in celebration.

  8. At 73? Probably less than 5%. I work with statistics like these but don’t know them ff the top of my head.

    30 years this game won’t exist anymore.

  9. I feel bad for the guy, but thousands have dementia and never played any sport.
    Can’t blame the NFL for everything.

  10. This really is the worst disease there is. It’s unbelievably hard to watch someone you know forget you, and making the decision to get them professional 24/7 help is so difficult. Maybe The Bears can raise some money to get him and his wife some in home care?

  11. It’s terrible. I’ve seen the horrors myself. A women that dedicated her life to her children only to not even recognize them due to this horrible disease. Never played a snap of football. Never head a head injury of any sort.

  12. Sorry, but I don’t think players should be able to sue the nfl for this stuff. It’s like smokers suing tobacco companies.

    Players know the risks, even back then, and chose to play anyway. The chose to accept the consequences when they chose to play as adults. They decided getting money was more important.

    It’s like a soldier enlisting for the GI Bill suing the army for sending him into battle, resulting in a wound.

  13. Horrible news. We have to remember Sayers played in the 1960s, when the knowledge and equipment just wasn’t available. Sayers barely played in 1970-71 because of the knee condition which forced his retirement.

    But the premise that football won’t exist in 30 years or so is wrong. The sport in total, has done more good than harm, and it’s our national pastime. The international players are coming, along with a growing number of teams and leagues across the globe.

    You almost never see positive articles about football, because they aren’t sensational, and websites are all about drawing attention. Ditto for virtually all media.

    Technology, smarter coaching in terms of pulling guys earlier from games, and players honestly reporting symptoms will help meet this challenge. As I speak, thousands of older players across the country participate in tackle football without being
    paid. These players range in age of 20s to even 50s, just because they love the sport so much.

    Football will be just fine.

  14. There are different ways to get dementia, of course, and having many high-impact collisions between your body and head and others over time is most certainly one of them. There seem to be people here suggesting that because regular folks get dementia there is no causal relationship between playing the sport and the illness. Nonsense. Take a look at old boxers–same principle. I love football but it’s bad for your long-term health.

  15. Some people get lung cancer who never smoked cigarettes. Therefore cigarettes are not bad for your health. Same with brain health and football: since some people suffer from brain diseases who never played football, then playing football does not put the health of your brain at risk. Disclaimer: I flunked math and science.

  16. Did Glenn Campbell play football? Is suing the NFL going to cure anyone? The insanity of the new millennium, Colleges and Universities turning out way to many lawyers. Dwight Clark has ALS and we all know that’s terrible however I had a co-worker whose wife died of the disease in her mid forties. This stuff happens to everyone snowflakes, in the future maybe even you.

  17. you’re 73 and still alive and able to make money off the career you had 40+ years ago

    we all cant live to 100, i think he’s done ok for 1 lifetime

  18. NFL players, on average, live longer and healthier lives than the general population. Yes, it’s a risk, and except for the first generation of players last century, they all know their is some risk for long term health issues just by talking to a few old-timers who suffer… But the majority DON’T suffer more than the average codger. Look it up.

    Also my grandmother suffered from dementia too as others are posting.. Never had a head injury so good luck, Gale and others, when it’s so common that many, many people get it, so common that it can’t be just football causing it.

  19. Sad to hear. Who among us did not shed tears and gain respect for Gale Sayers after we watched Brian’s Song?

  20. So sad. As a child, saw him play at KU against Nebraska & Oklahoma when he eaned the nickname “the Kansas comet”, and he was breath taking,
    There is so much that is unknown about neurological disease but there are many factors that play into diseases such as alzheimers, Parkinsons, demenia, ALS, etc., including hereditary, history of head injury etc.; to say it’s one thing is ignorant when even medical experts are still looking for answers. This is one of the most awful and cruelist diseases for the patient as well as the family and I hope the NFL has the class to step up and help these former players and be active in the research being done in these diseases.
    These fans who lack empathy, should hope they never have to deal with this themselves or in their family because it doesn’t discriminate to just the elderly or NFL players!

  21. My father’s 80 and has dementia, however, at some point in time if you’ve had any type trauma to the brain it’s very likely going to lead to dementia, my father was T-boned in a car accident, at the time the paramedics thought he was fine, however, a few days later he had no balance and couldn’t remember the basic things…well he had a blood clot which led to a stroke, had to learn to speak and walk all over again he recovered completely, however, eating a lot of the wrong foods led to another stroke….so here in the last 5 years due to the head trauma and strokes his memory as well as mood swings and confusion have increased. It’s hard watching someone who was such a strong influence while you were growing up dwindle to almost nothing right before your eyes…I will say the one thing that gets him motivated and feeling useful is my dog she adores both my parents and they love her, she makes their day, she knows how to get back to their domain so if he has a moment of confusion she will lead him back plus we have a GPS tracker for him when he walks to let us know his exact location.

  22. Anyone who has seen a loved one suffer from Alzheimer’s knows what a cruel and nasty disease this is. This person is your grandparent, mother, father, aunt, uncle, husband, wife, or friend. You’ve spent most of your life with this person and they just look at you like you’re a stranger. Sometimes they look at you blankly with no signs of recognition, but many other times they scream and yell at you to get away because you’re a “stranger”. Often they sneak out of the house and you spend hours trying to find them and pleading with cops to help you.

    The true victims are the family members and friens.

  23. Probably one of the saddest things about dementia is that if the body is strong the person may live a long, long miserable existence that often times destroys the lives of their spouses and children. I’m on the fence about euthanasia but I watched an uncle live with horrible dementia for over twenty years because physically he was as strong as an ox. My poor aunt and cousins suffered terribly too. Just a very sad situation and I wish the Sayers family the very best.

  24. Let’s just cut to the chase and admit that humans don’t really care about other humans. Look at who we elected to be President. We are stupid jerks. Live with it.

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.