Former New York Jets star Mark Gastineau revealed Thursday night that he has been diagnosed with Alzheimers, Parkinson’s and dementia. He is remembered as one of the NFL’s most feared defensive ends in the 1980s and the Jet’s all-time sack leader, having retired in 1988 with 107.5 sacks, including 22 during the 1984 season.
Gastineau, now 60, has explained that he was diagnosed about a year ago, and these health-related issues are largely related to how he learned to play the game and poor tackling techniques he used. In an interview with 710 WOR’s Pete McCarthy, Gastineau stated what he learned, “Head, stick and hands. I led with my head all the time.”
The announcement of Gastineau’s diagnoses comes a week after Bo Jackson stated to USA Today that he “would have never played football” if he had known about the potential long-term effects the game could have on one’s mental health.
Gastineau hopes to help younger players learn safer tackling techniques that can prevent them from suffering similar traumatic head injuries as he is. Although he has no regrets about choosing football as a career path, he explained that he would not feel comfortable letting his kids play if they weren’t instructed by the NFL-sanctioned USA Football’s Heads Up program.
Heads Up Football makes safety the priority for football teams and is now used by more than 7,000 youth and high school programs. Gastineau has been an ambassador for USA Football for several years and stated, “If a high school doesn’t have this program, there should not be a program.”
Gastineau doesn’t want his diagnosis to “overpower or overshadow the Head’s Up Program. I want it to be a warning to mothers and fathers” that football can be harmful if not taught properly.
Although now pained with his diagnoses, Gastineau optimistically stated, “I am so happy that I went through the times, the trials and things that I went through in the NFL. I wouldn’t trade them for anything.”