Former Raiders and 49ers running back Charlie Garner said doctors believe he may have Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a progressive degenerative disease of the brain.
Although CTE can only diagnosed port-mortem, the 45-year-old Garner said his memory is failing him and he’s scared.
“I don’t have all my faculties anymore,” Garner told The Sporting News. “I can’t remember things. When I go to the mall or grocery store, I have to take one of my kids with me to remember where the car is parked. I have trouble remembering conversations I had five minutes ago. Bright lights bother me. I just don’t feel right all the time.”
Garner, who retired in 2004 after an 11-year NFL career with the Eagles, 49ers, Raiders and Buccaneers, helped the Raiders reach the Super Bowl XXXVII in 2003 as a dual threat out of the backfield.
The former Pro Bowl player said he only had a couple of diagnosed concussions during his career — the NFL didn’t begin its concussion protocol system until 2009. Garner now believes he likely suffered many more concussions while playing after seeing a doctor a year ago.
“He explained that even minor collisions could cause the brain to rattle against the skull,” Garner said. “When I thought about that, I realized I probably had at least a dozen concussions a year and played through them. You do the math. At least a dozen concussions a year over 11 years. No matter how you look at it, that’s a lot.”
While Garner told The Sporting News that symptoms started about a year ago, he acknowledged in a 2015 interview with Jerry McDonald of the Bay Area News Group that he dealt with issues related to his years in the NFL.
“I get a little forgetful, that goes without saying,” Garner said. “I go through my aches and pains and I have my good days and my bad days. For the most part I’m pretty healthy. I can’t play football. I can’t play basketball with my children the way I want to. I can train ’em, but I can’t play with ’em. That’s tough . . . four or five knee surgeries, broken neck, broken ribs, broken ankles and toes, I done had it all.”
Despite all he’s dealing with, Garner said if he had to do it all over again he’d still play pro football — just maybe a different position.
“Football gave me a good lifestyle for me and my family,” Garner told The Sporting News. “But I might end up paying a big price for it. Other people already have paid a big price for it. People ask me all the time if I would do it all over again if I knew more about concussions. I say yes, but I would do it as a defensive back because I wouldn’t have taken so many hits.”