The name Jim McMahon has been part of my life since I was a kid.
He was the punky QB in Chicago. The face (or at least persona) of the Chicago Bears. The field leader of arguably the best NFL team ever assembled-the 1985 Bears. And McMahon was their leader.
I was 10 when he was headband wearing, spiky haired, mooning the helicopter at the Super Bowl quarterback for the Packers’ arch rival.
Flash forward a decade, and McMahon was still punky, only on a smaller scale. No longer a starting quarterback, age and injuries had relegated him to a backup to the Packers’ own free spirited gunslinger. But he still wore the sunglasses, still had that spiky hair, and still had that McMahon-esque presence.
Jim McMahon has been part of my life as a sports fan for nearly 30 years now. One mention of his name, and the memories about him from years ago come rushing back. He will always be a reminder of youth.
To read about his personal battles after his playing career ended is something which makes me incredibly sad.
Hearing that he is battling dementia is a tough enough pill to swallow. You never want to hear about anyone having to suffer through this, let alone someone that has been part of your life for most of yours. I could not imagine what it would be like to not remember things which have taken place in my own life. I hope I never have to.
To have McMahon admit that he had entertained thoughts of suicide because the dementia had gotten so severe is even more difficult to process.
The punky QB, once seemingly invincible, has become mortal. So very, very mortal.
McMahon is not the only former NFL player to experience these symptoms. Google NFL players CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) and one will find a far too long list of information about this disease. Depression, dementia, and suicide. These words are now sadly synonymous with the NFL.
After battling broken bones and sprains during their playing careers, retired players need to battle these demons post career, often without medical assistance. Those who are able to withstand the post career aches and pains must now face something far more sinister.
Every crunching hit on the playing field could be the beginning of CTE. Every highlight reel tackle the cause of post career pain.
Imagine not being able to remember certain events of your own life. Events which you were at. You participated in. You are in photographs which were taken during the event. Yet you cannot recall the specifics of. That is just one of the risks of playing in the NFL.
I had never fully understood these risks until two bits of info came out from former players.
The first was the admission of Brett Favre that he does not remember his daughter playing soccer. After 20 years in the league, virtually indestructible, for Favre to come out and admit he cannot remember part of his life was eye opening. All of the hits he took, all of the pain he endured, but part of his life is gone. That was quite sad to read about.
The second piece of information was from McMahon. Much like Favre, he had played a long career in the NFL, and had bounced back from countless tackles. But these tackles, which are part of the game, are now the cause of the pain he endures on a regular basis.
It is actually strange that it took these two players to speak about the risks associated with the game I love for me to fully understand. It did not come as a result of reading about other players speaking out, or lawsuits associated with CTE. It didn’t even sink in after hearing about the recent suicides of Junior Seau and Dave Duerson which were caused by CTE. It took two players, both of whom had played for my favorite team, to fully understand these risks.
Jim McMahon is 54 years old. That is calendar years only. The toll his NFL playing career took on him physically makes him much older than this. He should have many more years to live. The complications of his dealing with CTE may take a major bite out of his remaining years. That is truly sad.
No matter what happens, Jim McMahon will always be the punky QB to me. He always has been, always will be. I feel like I owe him that much.
John Rehor is a writer at PackersTalk.com.
He can also be heard as one of the Co-Hosts of Cheesehead Radio. ---------------------
He can also be heard as one of the Co-Hosts of Cheesehead Radio.You can follow John on twitter at jrehor or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.