NBC 5 sports anchor Mike Adamle has spent much of his life defying odds in football, but now he’s fighting a new kind of battle, and he hopes his story will help change the lives of other athletes that may be suffering.
Since last March, many viewers have asked why Adamle has been absent from the 10 p.m. news team. Now he’s ready to come forward and explain what happened.
“I’ve been on short-term disability and then long-term disability,” Adamle said. “I’ve had seizures and epilepsy for the last 19 years.”
According to Adamle’s neurologist, Dr. Michael Smith of Rush University, Adamle’s seizures are post-traumatic epilepsy, attributed in large part to his football career. But it appears they were just the beginning.
Adamle now has dementia and what doctors believe could be Chronic Traumatic Encephelopathy, also known as CTE.
“[My doctor said] we see some things that are concurrent with CTE,” he said. “And I’m going, ‘What? How can you say that? I thought it was supposed to happen after you pass away.’ ”
CTE is a progressive, degenerative brain disease found in athletes and others who have been hit repeatedly in the head. Research dating back to the 1920s showed it affects boxers, but in recent years, researchers have turned their attention to other athletes, in particular professional football players. CTE also has been found in soccer, rugby and baseball players.
“It shook my world and it just got kind of a little bit worse sometimes every day,” Adamle said.
So far, researchers only have been able to test for the disease post-mortem, though some say they have made progress toward diagnosing people while still alive.
Adamle’s doctor notes that he does have the risk factors.
“Do we know that he has it definitely? No,” said Smith. “We don’t know that until he dies unfortunately.”
Symptoms of CTE include memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, problems with impulse control, aggression, depression, and eventually the final stage, progressive dementia.
“When the bad days become more than the good days then you start worrying,” Adamle said.
In addition to the seizures, Adamle, 67, said he suffers from dramatic mood swings, episodes of rage, depression, anxiety and memory loss. Adamle has also been diagnosed with dementia.
“Here’s what happens. You [Peggy] come over and you can do an interview with me and you’ll leave and I’ll say, ‘Oh God who is that?’” Adamle told Kusinski. “Watching a movie last night -- this happened last night -- five seconds into it, I’ll say ‘What are we watching?’”
Asked how many times he’s suffered concussions in his career, Adamle can’t put a number to it.
“You went to the sideline, ‘How many fingers do I have?’” Adamle said. “And no one thought anything of it. No big deal. I’m sure a lot of guys still don’t think it’s a big deal. Now they’re saying it’s a big deal.”
Besides the dementia, Adamle said he’s most worried about the depression.
“The pain comes from embarrassment,” he said. “Sitting down, not being able to remember things. Like I said, everybody’s got that, don’t make a big thing out of it because everybody gets it. But sometimes I wake up in the morning, like I’ll throw up, and there’s times you get really depressed and you don’t want to see anybody and I try to fight those days.”
Adamle can no longer work and he can’t drive. He wears a fanny pack with his I.D., house keys and phone, in case he gets lost or can’t remember.
But he’s motivated to stay active and do exercises that can help improve his memory, or keep it from getting worse.
“The only way that I can extend my life and be around to see my daughters get married, live happily ever after with your wife, I want to be able to do that,” he said. “The only way you can do that is to stay active. I can’t jump out of an airplane anymore, I can’t rappel anymore, but there are things that I can do, I’m discovering.”
It is that drive that made Adamle want to share his story, to help others and their loved ones who may be suffering and not know they are suffering.
Asked about playing football, and whether he would do it all again, the man who defied the odds as a Big Ten MVP said “absolutely.”
But there’s one thing he’d do differently.
“I would do it again,” he said. “I would tell you what, though, I would work harder in the offseason to find out about things that protect you when you play.”