Gifford's brain was studied to advance medical research about football injuries

By Lynette Rice
November 25, 2015 at 08:20 PM EST
Robert Riger/Getty Images

The late Frank Gifford — who played professional football for 12 years before becoming a sportscaster — suffered from the degenerative brain disease Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (or CTE), his family announced on Wednesday.

After the 84-year-old Hall of Famer died in August, the family made the “difficult to 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.”

The Giffords released this statement:

“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.”

“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. 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.”

Gifford played football for the New York Giants from 1952 to 1964. In 1977, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. 

Afterwards, Gifford became a sportscaster for CBS and then eventually the co-host of Monday Night Football until 1985. He is survived by his third wife, Today co-host Kathie Lee Gifford, their two children, and his three children from his first marriage to Maxine Avis Ewart.

Many former NFL players, including Junior Seau, Mike Webster, Terry Long, Andre Waters, and Justin Strzelczyk, suffered from CTE, it was revealed after their deaths. The disease was given a national spotlight thanks to Dr. Bennet Omalu, the Pittsburgh forensic pathologist and neuropathologist who performed the autopsy on Webster following his 2002 death. A movie based on CTE research, called Concussion, will arrive next month with Will Smith starring as Omalu.