Ralph Wenzel played in the NFL for 7 years, and began to show cognitive impairments after retirement. His symptoms were mild at first, he often misplaced checkbooks or lost wallets. Wenzel struggled with memory loss, re-coaching his youth football team the same drills, forgetting they had done them the day before.
As his symptoms progressed, Ralph Wenzel was moved to an assisted living home. He couldn’t feed himself, didn’t recognize his wife, and spoke in fragmented sentences.
Wenzel passed away at the age of 70, and was diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Dr. Anne Mckee, director of Boston University’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, found Wenzel’s brain was deeply damaged, and shrunk to half its size – small enough to fit in the palm of her hand.
New research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found CTE in 110 of 111 brains of deceased NFL players. Many these players experienced debilitating symptoms like Ralph Wenzel. As research on the long-term health effects of repeated head trauma grows, players have expressed concern. “A lot of people think we’re gladiators, but we are human beings,” said New York Jets offensive lineman Damien Woody, “playing football is like a vapor, it’s here and it’s gone, and you still have the rest of your life to live.”
A new NFL retirement community being constructed at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, can help former players with uncertain futures. The facility, called “Legends Landing,” will open in 2020 just in time for the NFL’s 100th anniversary. The site could house up to 150 NFL Hall of Famers and former NFL players. Notably, the plans include a 24-bed memory care facility to help former players facing problems from years of accumulated head trauma.
Eddie DeBartolo, former 49ers owner, explained “there is a total need for this. We are seeing long term health struggles with our players… You have to take care of them when the uniform is off.”
The NFL Alumni Association previously partnered with Validus Senior Living to open smaller assisted living facilities for former players. A total of 33 are expected to open in cities around the United States. Legends Landing will expand on this effort, and provide new opportunities for research into sports injuries. NFL retirement communities can keep players close to the game they love, and serve as a reminder of football’s potential consequences.
Image Source: Sports Illustrated