Joe Namath, one of the most charismatic players in NFL history and one of the game's greatest quarterbacks, said today that if he'd known then what he knows now about concussions, he would never have played football.
Namath, who has recently undergone treatment for brain injuries, was asked in an interview with Tiffany Kenney of ABC's West Palm Beach, Florida, affiliate WPBF-TV whether would still play the game, given all he has learned about the effects of concussions.
"No," he said. "I hate to say that because if I had a child who wanted to play I'd let them play ... but I'd wait 'til he developed a little more.
"This instrument that we have, that we have been blessed with ... it's not designed for the kind of contact or physical abuse your body gets playing this sport," he said.
"I suffered several 'get-your-bell-rung' hits ... whether you hit the ground and get your bell rung or get hit by a forearm several times," Namath said. "Of course, going back to high school even."
In September, the Jupiter Medical Center in Jupiter, Florida, opened the Joe Namath Neurological Research Center to help combat the debilitating effects of traumatic brain injuries.
The center launched a clinical trial to study the effectiveness of hyperbaric oxygen therapy for treating the traumatic brain injuries that can result from sports-related concussions, motor vehicle accidents, strokes, military combat or other accidents.
Namath not only helped raise $10 million to fund the project, he took part in the therapy, spending 120 sessions in the hyperbaric chamber.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy stimulates the healing process by allowing oxygen to flow into the injured or affected area, according to a statement from the Jupiter Medical Center, which said it has used the method to successfully treat diabetic wounds and foot ulcers.
Namath told WPBF-TV that about three years ago he noticed age-related forgetfulness, but he began to wonder whether all the hard hits he'd taken in his 13 years as a pro, and in college and high school, had damaged his brain.
He knew that several other former players, including Dave Herman, who played with Namath on the Jets, had been diagnosed with degenerative brain disease that was linked to suffering repeated concussions.
"They shed some light for a whole lot of us ... that, 'Hey I better check into this,'" Namath told WPBF-TV.
He had brain scans done that showed parts of his brain were not receiving enough blood. Since the treatments, he has felt better, he said, and his brain scans showed improvements.
"The scans are beautiful. and I really feel like I've gotten sharper," he said. "I feel better than ever."