Jim McMahon supports brain studies

Updated: November 10, 2010, 8:39 PM ET
By Melissa Isaacson | ESPNChicago.com

CHICAGO -- It was during Super Bowl media day in February when Jim McMahon was first approached and asked to get involved with the Sports Legacy Institute, which was formed three years ago to "solve the concussion crisis" in sports.

Jim McMahon I've been hit in the head so many times, it's hard to remember that far back. I don't remember specific games."

-- Jim McMahon, on '85 win in Minnesota

More than that, Boston University researchers want to study McMahon's brain as part of their ongoing mission to treat and prevent the effects of brain trauma in athletes and other at-risk groups. McMahon's comments have indicated that he's a good candidate.

"My memory's pretty much gone," McMahon recently told the Chicago Tribune. "There are a lot of times when I walk into a room and forget why I walked in there. I'm going through some studies right now, and I am going to do a brain scan. It's unfortunate what the game does to you.

"I've worked with some neurosurgeons and it's a very serious thing, man."

McMahon has yet to pledge his brain to the study, but he intends to help raise money for research, beginning with co-hosting a fundraiser in Chicago at John Allan's Men's Club on Jan. 13. Proceeds will help bring educational programs and clinics about brain trauma to Chicago-area youth coaches. McMahon's former teammates Richard Dent and Gary Fencik will be among other athletes taking part in the event.

For McMahon, 51, whose heroics on the field -- and antics off -- in leading the 1985 Bears to the Super Bowl title made him one of football's most colorful characters, it was an opportunity he couldn't refuse. McMahon and his girlfriend, Laurie Navon, had seen a television feature on brain injuries in former athletes caused by repeated blows in football.

"He had been worried about it for a while," said Navon, speaking from McMahon's Scottsdale, Ariz., home on Wednesday. "He does forget things. He'll ask you a question, and 20 minutes later, will ask you the same question. Initially, I thought he was joking, but he wasn't.

"He'll walk in a room and forget why he walked in, which we all do, but he does it on a daily basis."

In a recent interview with ESPNChicago.com, McMahon talked about the aftereffects of his 15-year football career and said he was in pain every day, hasn't worked out in 15 years and can't run. At the same time, he said he did not second-guess the way he played.

"You could only play the game one way," he said. "It was the only way I knew how to play. I wouldn't change anything. I'd do it again, even though I know it's going to hurt."

McMahon was asked about the Bears' dramatic Thursday night victory in Minnesota in 1985, during which he came off the bench after being in the hospital that week with back spasms and a serious leg infection. He tossed three touchdown passes -- a performance that vaulted him to celebrity status nationally -- but McMahon said he could not cite any specifics.

"I've been hit in the head so many times, it's hard to remember that far back," he said. "I don't remember specific games."

Navon said McMahon's confusion affects his quality of life.

"He definitely gets depressed, because he can't do what he used to do and wants to do," she said. "We'll be driving someplace and we'll be halfway there and he says 'Where are we going?' He has a Kindle and he'll pick a book he thinks is interesting and get a quarter of the way through and realize he read it.

"He's going to become very active [with the Sports Legacy Institute] and try to get as many former players involved as he can. ... He feels it's important to get more information out there. He and others took the blows for the young kids today, and now the rules are changing after they took all the hits."

Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com. ESPNChicago.com Bears reporter Jeff Dickerson contributed information to this report.

Melissa Isaacson

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for espnW.com, ESPN Chicago and ESPN.com. The award-winning writer has covered Chicago sports for most of her 31-year career, including at the Chicago Tribune before joining ESPN in 2009. Isaacson has also covered tennis since 1986.

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