Former NFL running back Charlie Garner revealed that he may be dealing with the early stages of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease caused by repetitive brain trauma that leads to memory loss, impaired judgment and more.
In a player profile written by Pat Yasinskas for Sporting News, Garner said he is experiencing many of the symptoms associated with the brain disease and says he may have suffered about 12 concussions a season over his 11-year career in the league.
“I don’t have all my faculties anymore,” the 45-year-old Garner said. “I can’t remember things. When I go to the mall or grocery store, I have to take one of my kids with me to remember where the car is parked. I have trouble remembering conversations I had five minutes ago. Bright lights bother me. I just don’t feel right all the time.”
Garner, who played for the Philadelphia Eagles, San Francisco 49ers, Oakland Raiders and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, said he was only officially diagnosed with two concussions while playing in the NFL and none while playing in college. He went to a doctor after experiencing some of the symptoms a year ago and was surprised at what the doctor told him.
“He explained that even minor collisions could cause the brain to rattle against the skull,” Garner said. “When I thought about that, I realized I probably had at least a dozen concussions a year and played through them. You do the math. At least a dozen concussions a year over 11 years. No matter how you look at it, that’s a lot.”
A former girlfriend also noted a change in behavior that aligns with symptoms of CTE, including the extreme mood swings that led to their breakup about a year ago. Although he was never physically abusive to her, she said he was verbally abusive.
“He was a pussycat one minute and a lion the next,” she said. “You just never knew when the volcano would erupt.”
Garner Part of $1 Billion NFL Concussion Settlement
Repeated brain injuries and brain diseases have been an ongoing controversy surrounding the NFL. Garner, along with hundreds of other former players, sued the league for not educating them thoroughly on the dangers of concussions and not protecting them.
It wasn’t until 2009 did the NFL finally acknowledge the long-term effects concussions have on players and begin changing its approach to dealing with concussions.
“It’s quite obvious from the medical research that’s been done that concussions can lead to long-term problems,” then league spokesman Greg Aiello told The New York Times in December 2009.
This came after years of denying the connection. Just a few months before Aiello’s acknowledgment, he criticized an NFL-funded study that found former NFL players were 19 times more likely than the general population to have dementia, Alzheimer’s disease or other memory-related diseases.
The suit between players and the league was settled for an estimated $1 billion, which includes payouts to those with a list of qualified diseases and free testing for every retired player. By agreeing to the terms, the NFL was able to avoid acknowledging any wrongdoing or revealing what it knew in a highly publicized court trial.
The registration period for the settlement opened Feb. 6 for the roughly 20,000 former players eligible to sign up for free testing and possible financial awards.
However, in mid-March, it was reported that only about half of eligible players registered on the NFL settlement website.
“I find it interesting that only 50 percent have registered,” Pittsburgh attorney Jason Luckasevic told the Tribune-Review at the time. “That tells you that a lot of guys are apathetic or unable to realize that they need to do something.”
Players could receive financial awards up to $5 million depending on the type of disease they have. Those diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, could receive the maximum award. Families of those diagnosed with CTE, which can only be confirmed after someone has died, could receive $4 million. Those with Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s diseases could receive $3.5 million.
Garner Doesn’t Regret NFL Career
Still, despite his declining mental health, Garner told Yasinskas he is proud of his career but might have done things a little differently if he had the chance.
“Football gave me a good lifestyle for me and my family,” Garner said. “But I might end up paying a big price for it. Other people already have paid a big price for it. People ask me all the time if I would do it all over again if I knew more about concussions. I say yes, but I would do it as a defensive back because I wouldn’t have taken so many hits.”
He also said that his 10-year-old son Charlie is already extremely athletic for his age and excels in flag football. However, he does not participate in contact football.
Interestingly, it wasn’t Garner’s decision to stop him from playing.
“No, it’s his choice all the way,” Garner said. “He’s old enough to hear some of the things about concussions. Maybe when he gets into high school, he might want to play. I won’t stop him and I’ll support him. But I’ll encourage him to play defensive back and do everything I can to keep him safe. But, if he doesn’t want to play, that will be fine with me.”