Ex-Jet Mark Gastineau Battling Multiple Brain Diseases
by RICH CIMINI
Former New York Jets star Mark Gastineau, one of the NFL's most feared pass-rushers in the 1980s, said Thursday night he's battling serious brain issues he believes were caused by concussions in football.
"When my results came back, I had dementia, Alzheimer's and Parkinson," Gastineau said in an interview on WOR radio in New York. "Those are three things that I have."
Gastineau, 60, said he was diagnosed a year ago and he blames it on poor tackling technique. He called it "disturbing," but he's hoping it serves as a warning to coaches and young players.
A member of the celebrated New York Sack Exchange in the early 1980s, Gastineau retired abruptly in 1988 after 10 seasons with the Jets.
What he didn't mention in the rambling, 30-minute interview was that he became a professional boxer after football. From 1991 to 1995, he fought a total of 17 professional bouts, winning 15.
People close to Gastineau have been saying for years they've noticed that he occasionally slurs his words and loses his focus in conversations.
Despite his struggles, Gastineau said he has no regrets about playing football and he encouraged kids to play the sport as long as they follow the proper techniques.
"I led with my head all the time," he said. "Do you remember Marvin Powell? He was one of the best linemen in the NFL. He and I used to have wars [in practice]. ... People would come and gather round because when we hit each other, I mean, you would hear pops, like a shotgun going off."
Endorsing the NFL-sanctioned USA Football program, Gastineau said he doesn't want his grim diagnosis to "overpower or overshadow the 'Heads Up' program. I want it to be a warning to mothers and fathers" that football can be harmful if not taught properly.
Gastineau is the Jets' all-time sack leader and his single-season NFL record (22) lasted until 2001, when it was broken by Michael Strahan.
Gastineau disagrees with former football and baseball star Bo Jackson, who recently said he wouldn't allow his children to play football.
"I think that if he would have known about the Heads Up program, I don't think that he would have said that he never would have let his kids play,'' Gastineau said. "The only reason that I would allow my child to play is because of this USAFootball.com. I would not allow my child to play if I did not have this Heads Up Football. There's no way in the world. You cannot expect your child not to be injured if you do not enter this program.''
Gastineau insisted that, despite his health issues, he has no regrets when it comes to his football career.
"I am so happy that I went through the times, the trials and things that I went through in the NFL,'' Gastineau said. "I wouldn't trade them for anything.''
The Associated Press contributed to this report.