“While I’m still trying to wrap my head around the challenge I will face with this disease over the coming years, the only thing I know is that I’m going to fight like hell and live every day to the fullest,” Clark wrote.
“In addition to losing strength in my left hand — which makes opening a pack of sugar or buttoning my shirt impossible — I have now experienced weakness in my right hand, abs, lower back and right leg. I can’t run, play golf or walk any distances. Picking up anything over 30 pounds is a chore. The one piece of good news is that the disease seems to be progressing more slowly than in some patients,” he said.
Clark played as a wide receiver for the 49ers from 1979 to 1987. He is best remembered for “The Catch” in the 1982 NFC playoffs, which took the 49ers to victory against the Dallas Cowboys in the final minute of play.
Although he was diagnosed just four years ago, Ardie believes the disease began surfacing as far back as 2009.
Sayers’ story was immortalized in the 1971 movie “Brian’s Song,” starring Billy Dee WIlliams as Sayers and James Caan as Brian Piccolo, which told about the friendship they developed as they became the first interracial NFL roommates while competing for a spot with the Bears.
Today, his wife says, 73-year-old Sayers is healthy “as a horse” and works out with a trainer several days week, but mentally, he is not as strong. He has a hard time holding a conversation, and she said he had recently washed his hands with carpet cleaner.
It is not known whether Sayers’ condition is directly a result of his football career, but his wife says doctors have no questions about whether it is a factor.
‘A part of this has to be on football’
“Like the doctor at the Mayo Clinic said, ‘Yes, a part of this has to be on football,’ ” Ardie Sayers told the Kansas City Star. “It wasn’t so much getting hit in the head. … It’s just the shaking of the brain when they took him down with the force they play the game in.”
Much of the concern about repetitive hits has been over their link to the neurodegenerative disease called chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Some experts have posited that it can prompt the development of other diseases, such as ALS, as was the case with former Philadelphia Eagles player Kevin Turner.
In his new letter, Clark says, “I’ve been asked if playing football caused this. I don’t know for sure. But I certainly suspect it did. And I encourage the NFLPA and the NFL to continue working together in their efforts to make the game of football safer, especially as it relates to head trauma.”
The deal also called for baseline medical exams for retired NFL players and monetary awards for those who are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, dementia, ALS and certain cases of CTE.
Clark’s letter focuses on fighting the disease and the support provided to him by his family, friends and former 49ers teammates.
“Every single one of my 49ers teammates that has contacted me has said whatever I need, anytime I need it, they will help. That’s just the kind of guys they are. They were so giving as players and now they are the same as friends,” he said.
“I’m not having a press conference or doing any interviews. That time will come. Right now, I’ve got work to do. I’ve got to devote all my energy preparing for this battle and I would hope you can respect my family’s privacy as I begin this challenge. My ultimate hope is that eventually I can assist in finding a cure for ALS, which disrupts the lives of so many and their loved ones.”
Like Clark, Ardie Sayers is focused on the future — not just of her husband but of others like him.
“It’s hard, yes, I’m not saying it isn’t. And it’s challenging at times,” she said. “But then when I stop and think about the people around me and people that are willing to help and family that are willing to come … we’re blessed that way.”