Frank Gifford is one of the biggest stars in football history — with a Hall of Fame playing career under the media spotlight of New York followed by a legendary broadcasting stint as the original and longtime play-by-play man for Monday Night Football. He died in August at 84, and today his family said they are donating his brain to medical research. Why? Because they said doctors recently diagnosed him with CTE, the degenerative brain disease linked to concussions.
That’s significant in that the NFL has been dealing with the ugly topic of head trauma — from lawsuits from affected players through the suicides of such stars as Junior Seau and Dave Duerson, the latter having shot himself in the chest so his brain could be studied after his death. The Gifford family’s announcement also comes a month before the Christmas Day release of Concussion, Peter Landesman’s film starring Will Smith as the Nigerian forensic neuropathologist who made the first discovery of football-related brain trauma in a pro player and fought to bring awareness to the public. The movie is generating Oscar buzz and should be a talker just as the NFL moves into its postseason.
Gifford’s family says they will continue to support the NFL and its recent rule changes and new protocols designed to make the game safer for players. But this announcement, especially its timing ahead of the movie and as the playoff push heats up, won’t make anyone happy in the league’s front office.
Here’s the Gifford family’s full statement:
After losing our beloved husband and father, Frank Gifford, we as a family made the difficult decision to have his brain studied in hopes of contributing to the advancement of medical research concerning the link between football and traumatic brain injury.
While Frank passed away from natural causes this past August at the age of 84, our suspicions that he was suffering from the debilitating effects of head trauma were confirmed when a team of pathologists recently diagnosed his condition as that of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE)—a progressive degenerative brain disease.
We decided to disclose our loved one’s condition to honor Frank’s legacy of promoting player safety dating back to his involvement in the formation of the NFL Players Association in the 1950s. His entire adult life Frank was a champion for others, but especially for those without the means or platform to have their voices heard. He was a man who loved the National Football League until the day he passed, and one who recognized that it was—and will continue to be—the players who elevated this sport to its singular stature in American society.
During the last years of his life Frank dedicated himself to understanding the recent revelations concerning the connection between repetitive head trauma and its associated cognitive and behavioral symptoms—which he experienced firsthand. We miss him every day, now more than ever, but find comfort in knowing that by disclosing his condition we might contribute positively to the ongoing conversation that needs to be had; that he might be an inspiration for others suffering with this disease that needs to be addressed in the present; and that we might be a small part of the solution to an urgent problem concerning anyone involved with football, at any level.
The Gifford family will continue to support the National Football League and its recent on-field rule changes and procedures to make the game Frank loved so dearly—and the players he advocated so tirelessly for—as safe as possible.