Well, fans, I’m going out and buying a ping pong table. The doctors say that will help improve my hand/eye coordination. It’s definitely not what it used to be. And I’m also doing some brain puzzle tests that I download off the Internet. Basically, I’m rehabbing my brain.
Today most athletes rehab after surgery from a knee or shoulder injury. Well, I’m learning how to prevent my brain from getting worse than it is after suffering a career worth of concussions playing football. When I played for the Steelers and I got my bell rung, I’d take smelling salts and go right back out there. All of us did that. We didn’t know any better. You don’t know how many times I was in the huddle, asking my teammates to help me call a play. After a few minutes, I’d be fine and I’d keep playing just like nothing had happened.
But lately I’ve really been struggling with my short-term memory. I was in Ruston, La., doing my annual fundraising golf tournament for my alma mater, Louisiana Tech, and I told a bunch of writers and TV folks back there what was going on with me. I was dead serious with them. It was definitely the first time I was back there that I didn’t crack a joke or smile. I think they knew I was serious because I was sweating so much, explaining what was going on with me.
Why did I go public? Well, I thought it would be good for a lot of players for this to get out, for me to tell my story because I was a quarterback. I know how much my late center Mike Webster suffered. I can only imagine what a lot of defensive players from my era are going through. I’ve talked with Howie Long about this. He understands what I’m going through. I just thought it would good for them to hear what I had to say. I also think other players should speak up and say what they’ve been experiencing. It’s good for the soul and your brain.
I spent a weekend at the Amen Clinic in Newport Beach, Calif., where I found out the cause of my short-term memory loss. I’ve had this horrible concentration problem for a while now — it took me 10 days to learn nine pages of a speech, something that would probably take you one or two days to learn. It’s obvious that my brain isn’t what it used to be. I’m taking memory power boost tablets to help me every day and doing the puzzles to help me stay focused.
Toward the end of last season on the FOX pregame show, maybe the last six weeks, I really started to forget things. That’s why I quit reciting statistics because I couldn’t remember them exactly and I stayed away from mentioning some players by name because I really wasn’t sure and I didn’t want to make a mistake. I’m on national TV in front of millions and I hate making mistakes. I told the people in Ruston that I suffered six concussions and numerous head injuries. I think that’s right, but I’m not really sure.
The memory loss made me jittery at times. It was driving me crazy that I couldn’t remember something that I studied the night before. All it did was trigger my anxiety and all of sudden everything would snowball on me. I know I have depression and it’s a horrible disease. This memory loss just made my depression worse.
By looking at the damage to my own brain, I can see now what I’m dealing with and what I have to do from making it worse. I definitely have issues, but I did pass most of the tests. I know what I have to do to maintain and do the FOX show and do my speeches without worrying all the time, making myself feel worse. It’s not the end of the world, but it’s something I have to stay on top of now.
I know the NFL has done a lot to help us and also to improve the conditions for today’s players in regards to helmets and head injuries. But it’s nowhere where it needs to be. Over 100 professional athletes have gone through the Amen Clinic. They are doing some amazing studies of the brain. But I really think it is important for players to talk about what they are going through after their playing days are over. The research, the talking is going to help someone else. I really believe that.