CHICAGO – Former Bears quarterback Jim McMahon, who is suffering from early-stage dementia, told a Chicago TV station that while he appreciates what football has done for him, if he could do it over, he would play baseball.
In an interview with Fox affiliate WFLD-TV, aired Wednesday, the 53-year-old McMahon said he knows where he's going when in an airport. But when he meets people, "I'm asking two minutes later, 'Who was that?'
"When my friends call and leave me a message ... I'll read it and delete it before I respond and then I forget who called and left me a message," he added.
McMahon said he is not worried about his mind withering away. He said he still reads a lot and is doing other things to keep his mind active. However, he said he doesn't know whether he is getting worse.
"Other than just sitting in the house, I'm on the road doing these different events and charities, helping my buddies out," McMahon said. "When I'm home, I'm usually sitting in the back of my room just watching TV in the dark and when I come out it's to the kitchen to get something to eat."
Knowing what he now does about the effects of the punishment he received in his 14-year NFL career, McMahon said, he would have chosen a different career.
"That was my first love, was baseball, and had I had a scholarship to play baseball. I probably would have played just baseball," he said. "But football paid for everything, it still does. That Super Bowl XX team is still as popular as it ever was. Until they win again, we're gonna still make money."
McMahon led the Bears to the 1986 Super Bowl victory over New England. He is now among the retired players suing the NFL for concussion-related dementia and brain trauma.
More than 2,400 retired players are plaintiffs, looking for the kind of success smokers had against the tobacco companies. The result then was a landmark, $206 billion settlement shared among 46 states. The ex-players are taking on a multibillion-dollar industry that is the most popular sport in the United States.
McMahon said he suffered four concussions while playing. He said after being slammed by the defense, team doctors generally would ask him how hef felt and whether he could follow a finger with his eyes.
"They'd ask you questions, basic questions. Where are you, what day is it? Stuff like that. And if you were able to answer that and seem like you were OK, they would let you back in."
McMahon said he realizes fans believe the lawsuit is motivated by greed, but he said many players didn't make a lot of money in the 1980s. He noted that his contract was mostly incentives, and if he didn't play he wasn't going to get paid.