The family of Frank Gifford says the revered television commentator and NFL running back suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a progressive brain disease linked to the types of brain injuries and head trauma common in football.
“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,” said a statement released Wednesday.
The family decided to have Gifford’s brain studied “in hopes of contributing to the advancement of medical research concerning the link between football and traumatic brain injury.” The family made the information public to honor Gifford’s commitment to promoting player safety, dating back to his involvement in creating the NFL Players Association, a union representing players’ interests, in 1956.
“His entire adult life Frank was a champion for others, but especially for those without the means or platform to have their voices heard,” the statement said.
Shortly before his death, he delved into better understanding the connection between “repetitive head trauma and its associated cognitive and behavioral symptoms — which he experienced firsthand.”
Gifford, who was married to TV host Kathie Lee Gifford for 29 years and who was the play-by-play announcer for “Monday Night Football” for 27 years, played football for the University of Southern California Trojans before joining the New York Giants in 1952. There, he played running back and defensive back until 1964. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1977.
“We miss him every day, now more than ever,” the family statement said, “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 revelation that Gifford suffered from CTE could play a significant role in raising awareness about the disease, CNN sports analyst Christine Brennan said. And it comes just as “Concussion,” the Will Smith film about the effects of head trauma on football players, is getting ready to hit theaters.
“Frank Gifford takes this to another level,” Brennan said.
There have been other high-profile former NFL players tied to the disease, but Gifford’s role as a sports superstar and celebrity sportscaster could change the conversation, she said.
“Frank Gifford is perhaps the biggest name for everyone, from Topeka to Toledo to Spokane, of someone now who has had CTE. … And once you put a very famous face on something horrible, it does tend to have an impact unlike anything else,” Brennan said.