This week’s Sports Illustrated: Jim McMahon’s battle with dementia

I was a young reporter for the Chicago Tribune in 1985 when my ship came in. I was assigned to join the great Don Pierson as the No. 2 beat guy for the Bears.

Talk about great timing. Covering one of the great teams of all time always will be the highlight of my career.

Jim McMahon was No. 1 on a team full of memorable characters. He was a jerk to the media, but it didn’t matter. Chicago loved him because he played fearless football.

McMahon often led with his head, as evidenced by this Sports Illustrated cover from Jan., 1986. And we loved the way he head-butted his teammates in repeated celebrations. What a wacky goof, we thought.

I couldn’t help but think of those head-butts when I saw the latest cover of SI. It turns out McMahon, only 53, has paid quite a price for sacrificing his body for football.

Here a preview of the piece from SI:

Too often forgotten in the NFL concussion debate are the wives and girlfriends who bear the burden of caring for the suffering players—and watching the men they love slip away. Three of these women, Laurie Navon (girlfriend of former QB Jim McMahon), Mary Lee Kocourek (wife of former TE Dave Kocourek) and Mary Ann Easterling (widow of former safety Ray Easterling) share their personal stories with staff writer Melissa Segura.

Navon met McMahon, who has early-onset dementia, at a golf outing seven years ago. But the man she knows now is not the charismatic, sweet, funny, confident man she met that day. She began to notice a difference in McMahon’s behavior in early 2007, and since tests confirmed his dementia, she has done everything to make adjustments in both their lives.

Navon and McMahon are confronting the disease at the beginning of its development, while Mary Lee and Dave Kocourek are suffering through its final stages. Dave was a four-time Pro Bowl tight end in the 1960s, and in 2002, at age 64, he learned he had dementia. It’s been a rough road since around ’05. Mary says,“When you see a man that was so big and so strong and so nice and gentle, and he doesn’t know the difference between a toothbrush and a razor. He could have cut his mouth wide-open. After [he] got progressively worse, I had to watch everything he did. I couldn’t let him take a shower or do any of the things you need to do every morning without me being there. I couldn’t chance it.”



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