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Former New York Jets All-Pro defensive end Mark Gastineau revealed Thursday that he’s been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and dementia.
In an interview with 710 WOR’s Pete McCarthy (h/t the New York Post‘s Anthony Barstow and Pete Cannizzaro), Gastineau explained he believes the diseases developed because of the physical, smashmouth style of play that he was taught.
“I learned head, stick and hands,” Gastineau said. “When we would hit each other, I mean, you heard pops like a shotgun going off. I led with my head. Head, stick and hands. Lead with your head, then you grab, then you decide which way you’re going to go. … But, Pete, it’s changed so much.”
He also said he hopes to help younger players learn safer tackling techniques that will prevent them from suffering traumatic head injuries.
“When my results came back, you know, I had dementia, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s,” Gastineau told McCarthy. “Those were three things that I have, you know, Pete. It’s something that I want every player that goes out and plays to be protected in the best way they can be protected.”
While Gastineau told McCarthy he has no regrets about choosing football as a career path, he explained that he wouldn’t feel comfortable letting his kids play if they weren’t instructed by USA Football’s Heads Up program.
“I’m not going to say that I’m not going to let my child play when I know there’s techniques out there that if I would have had them…I know that I wouldn’t have the results that I have now,” Gastineau said. “I do not want to have [my diagnosis] overpower or overshadow the Heads Up program. I don’t want to have that overshadow it.”
The disclosure of Gastineau’s illnesses comes a week after Bo Jackson told USA Today‘s Bob Nightengale that he “would have never played football” if he knew about the potential long-term effects the game can have on a player’s mental health.
Gastineau, who made three All-Pro teams and five Pro Bowls, spent 10 years with the Jets after being selected in the second round of the 1979 NFL draft.