Frank Gifford suffered brain injury; family supports NFL efforts to improve player safety

by Lee Warren, Newswriter |
Frank and Kathie Lee Gifford were married almost 30 years before Gifford passed away Sunday, August 9. "Frank would want you to know he died in complete peace," Kathie Lee told her viewers on Monday. | FACEBOOK/Kathie Lee Gifford

NEW YORK (CHRISTIAN EXAMINER) — Frank Gifford, the NFL Hall of Famer who played 12 seasons with the New York Giants from 1952-64, had a traumatic brain injury, according to a statement his family released this week.

Gifford, who was a professing Christian, passed away at the age of 84 in August.

"After losing our beloved husband and father, Frank Gifford, we as a family made the difficult decision to have his brain studied in hopes of contributing to the advancement of medical research concerning the link between football and traumatic brain injury," reads the statement, according to NBC News.

"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 as that of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) — a progressive degenerative brain disease."

The NFL agreed to pay $765 million in 2013 to settle concussion-related lawsuits from retirees. The former players claimed the league did not do enough to warn them about possible head injuries.

Gifford was knocked unconscious in a game at Yankee Stadium in November 1960 by Chuck Bednarik of the Philadelphia Eagles. He was diagnosed with a concussion and he missed the entire 1961 season.

"We decided to disclose our loved one's condition to honor Frank's legacy of promoting player safety dating back to his involvement in the formation of the NFL Players Association in the 1950s," the family statement continued. "His entire adult life Frank was a champion for others, but especially for those without the means or platform to have their voices heard. He was a man who loved the National Football League until the day he passed, and one who recognized that it was — and will continue to be — the players who elevated this sport to its singular stature in American society.

"During the last years of his life Frank dedicated himself to understanding the recent revelations concerning the connection between repetitive head trauma and its associated cognitive and behavioral symptoms — which he experienced firsthand. We miss him every day, now more than ever, 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 Gifford family will continue to support the National Football League and its recent on-field rule changes and procedures to make the game Frank loved so dearly — and the players he advocated so tirelessly for — as safe as possible."

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell responded with his own statement.

"We appreciate the Gifford family's desire to help the medical community understand more about CTE, and we are grateful for their support of the league's efforts to improve safety in our game," said Goodell, according the "NY Daily News."

"At the NFL, we are supporting grants to (the National Institutes of Health) and Boston University as well as other independent efforts to research the effects of repetitive head trauma," he continued. "But we are not waiting until science provides all of the answers. We are working now to improve the safety of our game. The NFL has made numerous rules changes to the game, all to enhance player health and safety at all levels of football. These include 39 rule changes and better training and practice protocols that are yielding measurable results."

Gifford's wife, Kathie Lee, offered a moving tribute to her husband when she returned to her duties as a host for the "Today" show after Gifford passed away instantly on Aug. 9, shortly before they headed to church.

"The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away," Gifford said in the tribute. "And that's something we've been through this past week when we lost Frank."

"As a young child, Frank asked Jesus into his heart and that remained with him for the rest of his life," she continued.

"He strayed from his faith on occasion, but his faith never left him. And especially after we found each other and started sharing our faith together — it became more and more and more important to Frank. His world got smaller as his God got bigger.

"He'd want you to know that he died in complete peace. He knew every sin he'd ever committed was forgiven. He had the hope that he would be with the Lord and that we would someday be with him as well."