Jim McMahon Doubles Down on His Scary Prophecy: ‘I Know I Have CTE’

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Jim McMahon of the Chicago Bears gets his pass off over Dennis Owens of the New England Patriots during Super Bowl 20.

Jim McMahon is scared. The former Chicago Bears quarterback knows football was good to him, but he’s experiencing the dark side of the game. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease associated with repeated head trauma, was found in the brain of at least 315 former NFL players, according to a December report in The New York Times. McMahon believes he has it.

CTE., as it’s usually referred to, can only be officially diagnosed after death. Its symptoms include depression, aggressive behavior, loss of memory, and suicidal thoughts. McMahon’s former teammate Dave Duerson, who died by suicide in 2011, was diagnosed with it. Andre Waters and Junior Seau, along with several others, were young football players who also died by suicide. All were found to have CTE.

McMahon has experienced memory loss and other symptoms that can be linked to CTE. The Super Bowl-winning quarterback was blunt about those symptoms, saying, “I know I have CTE.”

Jim McMahon has seen his former teammates struggle after their playing days

Jim McMahon Doubles Down on His Scary Prophecy: 'I Know I Have CTE'
Jim McMahon of the Chicago Bears gets his pass off over Dennis Owens of the New England Patriots during Super Bowl 20 January 26, 1986, at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana. | Focus on Sport/Getty Images.

There was no changing McMahon’s style of play in the NFL. He was as tough and hard-nosed as any quarterback. McMahon took the big hits and, most of the time, he got right back up.

Those sacks and takedowns have seemingly caught up with the 62-year-old quarterback. According to a 2012 Sports Illustrated article, McMahon has been diagnosed with early-onset dementia. He’s dealt with memory loss, excruciating head pain, and thoughts of taking his own life.

He’s not alone. In 2011, Duerson did just that. Now, McMahon has to watch former teammate Steve McMichael rely on a wheelchair as he deals with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. According to, ex-NFL players diagnosed with ALS have been found on autopsy to actually have a form of CTE.

“A lot of these guys are struggling,” McMahon said in an August interview with Rich McHugh of NewsNation. “My teammates, Steve McMichael in particular, is one of the biggest, strongest guys to ever play in the NFL. Now, he’s in a wheelchair, blowing through a tube to get around. He can’t use his arms or his legs. He’s got ALS.”

Jim McMahon says he knows he has CTE

While it can’t be officially diagnosed with McMahon still alive, the former QB is confident he has CTE.

“I know I have CTE,” McMahon said to McHugh. “Nobody ever mentioned the brain. Everybody knows you’re going to have bad knees, bad shoulders, but nobody ever mentioned the brain to anybody.

“The league knew how bad this game is for you. They knew what was going to happen long-term to a lot of these guys. That information wasn’t told to us.”

McMahon has the typical body aches for someone who was consistently hit during a 15-year career in the NFL. He said it’s his brain that’s given him the biggest problem.

“My head is really the worst of my problems,” he said. “I was losing my mind and having these bad thoughts and really bad headaches. It’s not a good feeling. When your brain starts messing with you, you’d don’t know what to do.”

He then spoke about Duerson.

“I’ve had teammates kill themselves,” he said. “I couldn’t believe it. How somebody could take their life like that.  “But after I started having those same thoughts myself. Had I had a gun, I wouldn’t be here because my head hurts so bad that the only way to get rid of it is just be done. And thank God that didn’t happen.”

McMahon recently doubled down on his belief he has CTE

Last month, McMahon reiterated his belief that he had CTE. He went into greater detail during an interview with Off the Ball host Joe Malloy.

“There’s no doubt I’ve got it,” McHamon told Malloy. “Like I’ve said, that stuff was sitting there for years at a time. Your spinal cord is supposed to go and flush all the toxins out of your brain. When it’s just sitting there, as a doctor explained it to me, it’s like a cesspool. It just starts eating away at the brain. That’s where the CTE comes from, the holes in the brain, stuff like that.

“Obviously, I’ve got some form of it. I’m able to function, like I said, as long as I keep getting these treatments. I’m able to function normally. My long-term (memory), I can remember things from a long, long time ago. Yesterday, a week ago, those don’t seem to stick in my head.”

McMahon went on to say that the concussion protocol back then was simply following a finger. If you could do that, you could go back in the game. He said he thinks he had “three or four” diagnosed concussions during his playing days, but he knows there were probably more, but he just shook it off and went back in.

“This is a violent game, and your brain is not suspended by anything,” he said. “When you have a collision, your brain is going to hit the side of your skull, and you’re going to have some problems.”

How to get help: In the U.S., call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Or text HOME to 741-741 to connect with a trained crisis counselor at the free Crisis Text Line.

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