By Tim Graham
Buffalo Bills legend Joe DeLamielleure already figured his brain was damaged from years of playing football.
Recent tests at UCLA merely confirmed his belief.
ESPN's "Outside the Lines" reported today that DeLamielleure, fellow Pro Football Hall of Famer Tony Dorsett and former All-Pro Leonard Marshall have been diagnosed with signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the degenerative brain condition scientists believe is caused by repeated collisions.
"If you played football in my era, and you played as long as I played," DeLamielleure told me tonight, "there's a very, very good chance you got CTE. I knew for years I had some issues."
CTE usually isn't diagnosed until an autopsy. Over 50 former NFL players have been diagnosed posthumously, as former players and their families increasingly agree to will their brains for study to help understand the long-term neurological impact of repeated collisions.
Many former NFL players suffer from dementia and depression. Research has shown NFL players have eight to 10 times the likelihood of being diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), the incurable neuromuscular disorder commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease, than the average citizen.
That's because CTE mimics ALS, and the actual cause can't be learned until an autopsy. Some brains, including retired superstars such as Junior Seau and Dave Duerson, were found to have CTE after suicides.
UCLA researchers identified the condition in living players for the first time a year ago. DeLamielleure said UCLA used a nuclear PET scan for his diagnosis.
"When I heard they had a test for CTE, I wanted to know for myself and for my family," DeLamielleure said. "We want to improve things not just for me, but for all people. This can help people who have dementia, strokes.
"I just don't want there to ever be another Junior Seau. To me, that is the saddest of sad stories. He played 20 years and killed himself. Let's start helping these guys."
Dorsett, a celebrated Dallas Cowboys running back, told ESPN his symptoms include depression, memory loss and suicidal thoughts. Dorsett told the network that on his flight from Dallas to visit UCLA, he repeatedly forgot why he was on the plane and where he was going.
DeLamielleure, 62, is a lifelong fitness nut and called himself "very functional" despite his diagnosis. He's fortunate that his wife of 41 years, Gerri, is a nurse.
But he explained he has insomnia and mood swings and gets inexplicably depressed when he's by himself for any amount of time.
"I should not be depressed," DeLamielleure said. "I'm happily married. I got six children. They've all grown up and gone to college. I got 10 grandchildren. They're all healthy. I have a great job, and I'm able to do speaking engagements.
"I get depressed for what reasons? It's from football."
DeLamielleure played right guard for the Bills from 1973 through 1979. He was the star of the "Electric Company," the line that blocked for record-setting running back O.J. Simpson.
DeLamielleure played five seasons with the Cleveland Browns before finishing his career with the Bills in 1985. He went to six Pro Bowls and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2003.
He said he never was diagnosed with a concussion, but conceded he probably had hundreds. He told The Sporting News last year that if he had a chance to go back in time, he would not play football.
"It can't be from anything else but football," DeLamielleure said. "My CTE is from hitting my head against Fred Smerlas twice a day for six weeks over the course of years, and for playing against Jack Lambert and Joe Greene and hitting my head every day.
"And if you didn't put your head in when I played, they said you were a big sissy."
He added he has 60 percent hearing loss in his left ear from repeatedly getting slapped in the helmet.
DeLamielleure has been a vocal critic of the NFL for not taking care of retired players or providing adequate healthcare.
At the Pro Football Hall of Fame this summer, he and Bruce Smith were among 16 inductees who signed a letter that expressed to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell their dismay over a "continued denial of the link between repeated head impacts and
permanent brain damage."
"We have sub-poverty pensions and no healthcare," DeLamielleure said. "We try to tell the NFL, 'Give us healthcare so we don't have to go through this.' But if you played before '93, you don't get it.
"That's depressing. They haven't taken care of us."