NFC North: Fred McNeil

Two years ago, we re-introduced you to former Minnesota Vikings linebacker Fred McNeil, whose descent into memory loss and depression was artfully told by Jeanne Marie Laskas in GQ magazine. The implication was that McNeil's years playing football had at least accelerated his mental deterioration, and those suspicions are now closer to being confirmed scientifically.

According to ESPN's Outside the Lines, McNeil is one of five former NFL players whose brain scans have revealed images of the protein that causes football-related brain damage. The UCLA study puts doctors closer to being able to diagnose Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) in living patients rather than waiting until after their deaths to dissect their brains.

The ability to diagnose CTE, and then perhaps treat it, would be a major breakthrough for brain safety in football.

McNeil was one of two ex-players the report revealed. He is 60 and played his last season with the Vikings in 1985.

The descent of Fred McNeill

February, 24, 2011
As we continue to hear more about the suicide of former Chicago Bears safety Dave Duerson, I want to call to your attention a stunning piece that appears in the March edition of GQ magazine. In it, Jeanne Marie Laskas profiles former Minnesota Vikings linebacker Fred McNeill's descent into memory loss and depression.

McNeill, 58, played 12 seasons for the Vikings from 1974-85. He earned a law degree from William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul and lived in the Twin Cities until 1999. Now, he is struggling with the simplest of short-term memory tasks. Here is a haunting excerpt from the story: A telephone conversation between McNeill and his wife, Tia, who is waiting for him to meet her car in front of his apartment.
"Am I what?" Fred says.

"Are you coming down? I'm waiting."

"You're waiting?"

"Fred, I'm out here waiting!"

"Oh, okay, I'll come down."

"Don't forget the suitcase," she says.


"Remember I need my suitcase back?"

He does not remember anything about a suitcase.

"Fred, I just told you ten minutes ago that I am outside waiting for you and to bring me the suitcase," she says.

"It's too early for karaoke," he says.

"Coffee," she says. "I am taking you out for coffee. Now, come on."

"Coffee. That sounds good."

"Please hurry, Fred."

"So what I'm going to do is, I'm going to put my shoes on, and I'm going to get my briefcase, and I am going to get you the suitcase, and I am going to come downstairs, and we are going to get coffee."

"Why are you bringing your briefcase?"

"I need to go to the office."

"No, you don't, Fred."

"Can we stop by the office?"

"Just come downstairs."

The larger question of Laskas' piece is whether long-term health risks have trumped the benefits of playing professional football. I have a feeling we're going to be hearing a lot more about that issue, and justifiably so, in the months and years ahead.