Mike Ditka is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The legendary Chicago Bears tight end and coach won three championships as a player and head coach before retiring from the sidelines in 1999.
Known as one of the toughest men to ever grace a football field, Ditka’s comments toward the sport on HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel have real gravity. In an episode set to air Tuesday night about the 1985 Super Bowl-champion Bears, Ditka had the following exchange with Gumbel, according to Seth Walder of the New York Daily News:
Ditka: “If you had an 8-year-old kid now, would you tell him you want him to play football?”
Gumbel: “I wouldn’t. Would you?”
Ditka: “No. Nope. That’s sad. I wouldn’t. And my whole life was football. I think the risk is worse than the reward. I really do.”
Ditka has seen first-hand the horrors of players who develop problems later in life because of the thousands of hits taken throughout a career. On the ’85 team alone, defensive back Dave Duerson committed suicide in 2011 at the age of 50 by shooting himself in the chest. Duerson left his family a message, asking for his brain to be examined. The results found Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, widely known as CTE. CTE is a brain disease which has been linked to repeated blows to the head along with concussions.
Quarterback Jim McMahon has also dealt with serious problems after playing with seven different teams from 1982-96. McMahon struggles to get out of bed for periods of time, sometimes lasting days and weeks. ESPN chronicled McMahon’s day-to-day laboring on Outside The Lines in 2012:
Ditka has been crusading for helping retired players. The Hall of Famer was part of the concussion-related lawsuits against the NFL which netted $765 million in 2013, and talked about McMahon at the time, per the New Yor Daily News.
“The key is, who’s the money going to? The players should be the priority,” former Bears coach Mike Ditka, who coached McMahon, told the Daily News Thursday. “After that, I don’t care if they research until the cows come home. Take care of the people who need help. In (McMahon’s) case, I know he’s having problems. That’s the way he played the game. Will the (settlement) help him? Absolutely. But in saying all that, when players are concussed, even in this day now, unless a doctor forces them to stay out, they all go back in. I don’t know if it’s a macho thing. That’s a fact. In the old days, it was the same way. Nobody thought there could be a long-term consequence because of it. I think (the NFL) is making great progress.”
By ratings, football is more popular than ever. Unfortunately, people are warning others about the dangers of the game they love, even former Hall of Famers.