Family of Gale Sayers, former Bears player, talks about his dementia

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Monday, March 20, 2017
Gale Sayers family talks about the Bears player's dementia diagnosis
Gale Sayers was a first-round pick of the Chicago Bears in 1965.

The family of Gale Sayers, a former Chicago Bears Hall of Famer, opened up for the first time about his battle with dementia.

In an interview with the Kansas City Star, his wife Ardie Sayers said her 73-year-old husband is still physically strong, but struggles with daily tasks. His speech is also very limited.

Sayers was diagnosed with dementia five years ago, but his family has not spoken about it until now.

He sued the NFL over concussions in January 2014 stating in a lawsuit that he suffered from "loss of memory, dementia, Alzheimer's, neurological disorder, depression, sleep problems and irritability."

The newspaper noted that Sayers barely spoke during a seven-hour visit, but his family says that other times he can carry on "halting" conversations.

His family must be vigilant about Sayer's safety these days. Ardie Sayers said that her husband tried to wash his hands with carpet cleaner a few days earlier.

"It keeps you on your toes," she told the newspaper.

Sayers was born in Wichita, Kansas, and was an All-American at Kansas. He was a first-round pick of the Chicago Bears in 1965 and was a four-time Pro Bowler. He once scored six touchdowns in a single game.

Yet he's losing touch with all those great achievements.

"You build memories all your life, and the next thing you know you don't remember anything," brother Roger Sayers said to the newspaper. "It's just tough."


Despite his relatively brief career, Sayers is arguably the most talented running back in professional football history.

Friends spoke to ABC7 on Sunday about the news.

Fred Mitchel co-wrote Sayers biography 10 years ago, which was several years before he started showing symptoms of dementia. The book tells of Sayers' early life as well as his many accomplishments since retiring from football at 28 years old.

"He's just done remarkable things with his life," Mitchell said.

But these days he seems unable to remember much of it.

"You realize Gale is oblivious to his surrounds and as he tries to write his names on jerseys, it's a struggle," said Chet Coppock, a sports journalist.

Legendary coach Marv Levy coached against Sayers' teams.

"It is sad to hear again you wonder if it's a result of the beatings he took as a player," Levy said.

Sayers relationship with teammate Brian Piccolo was famously documented in the 1971 movie "Brian's Song."

Now, Sayers joins a long list of former Bears who have apparently suffered from brain injuries linked to their playing careers, including Dave Duerson and Rashaan Salaam who both committed suicide, to Jim McMahon and, more recently, Lance Briggs.

Former Bear Emery Moorehead is close to Sayers, but worried for all retired players.

"The fact we're all learning now about what could possible happen is kind of frightening," Moorehead said via telephone.

ESPN contributed to this report.