San Francisco 49ers great Dwight Clark announced on Sunday night that he has been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
“Those words are still very hard for me to say,” the former wide receiver wrote.
Clark, 60, said he first started experiencing symptoms late in 2015 and suspects that football may have played a role in causing the disease. A 2012 study in the journal Neurology said former football players contracted the disease at a rate four times higher than the general population, though no direct link has ever been proven. There is no known cause for ALS.
Clark wrote about his new battle in a blog post that was so popular that it crashed the website that was hosting it on Sunday night. He said he does not plan on doing any interviews in the near term.
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.
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.
Clark is best known for teaming up with Joe Montana to make of the most famous plays in football history. Simply known as “The Catch,” Clark made a leaping reception in the back of the end zone to beat the Dallas Cowboys in the 1981 NFC championship game. Clark played for the Niners for nine seasons, retiring at age 30 after 6,750 yards and 48 touchdowns. He later served as the Niners GM in 1998 and served in the same role for the Cleveland Browns from 1998 to 2002.
Clark said he has heard from all of his former Niners teammates and they have pledged their full support. He also vows he will be active in raising awareness for ALS and wants to pursue a cure.
He is not the first high-profile player to be recently diagnosed with the disease, however.
Former New Orleans Saints special teamer Steve Gleason has been very public in his battle with ALS and was the subject of a moving documentary last year entitled “Gleason.”
Former fullback Kevin Turner, one of the lead plaintiffs in the concussion suit against the NFL, died from ALS in March 2016 at age 46. His brain was later found to have advanced CTE.