Nightly News   |  November 07, 2013

UCLA study diagnoses degenerative brain disease in NFL players

NFL players are known for having a lot of concussions, so they’re at high risk for a condition called Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or, CTE. NBC’s Stephanie Gosk reports.

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>>> we mentioned this before the break. an nfl legend is going public b about a frightening diagnosis we are now seeing more of. a career of hard hits to the head has apparently taken its toll now on hall-of-famer tony dorsett . more on his revelation from nbc's stephanie gosk.

>> reporter: when running back tony dorsett had the ball with, very few players could touch him. those who did delivered crushing blows. the worst came in a 1984 game against philadelphia he told espn's "outside the lines".

>> it reminded me of a mack truck hitting a volkswagen. he just blew me up.

>> reporter: after years of concussions, researchers at ucla now tell the hall-of-famer he's suffering from chronic traumatic enacce encepal encepalopathy.

>> for my daughters to say they are scared of me --

>> reporter: the only known test is performed after death, but researchers at ucla say they may have found another way looking at the protein deposits in the brains of living patients. they are focusing testing on retired nfl players like dorsett.

>> we look for players that had a history of concussions.

>> reporter: hall-of-famer joe delam delamalier heard about the study and wanted to with first in line.

>> we didn't know b about brain injury . all the sudden guys turn 45, 50, they start the dying or they are messed up.

>> reporter: after years of depression and sleepless nights ucla researchers told him he has cte, too. since 2009 the nfl instituted new rules to protect players and settled a lawsuit with some 4,500 players including demalarier and dorsett. the nfl pledged, we will continue our work to better the long-term health and well-being of nfl players. for now tony dorsett says he and his family are coping.

>> i'm fine. i have gotten a lot of love. i thank the people around the city that reached out to me.

>> reporter: a generation of athletes only now beginning to understand the potential price of playing a punishing sport. stephanie gosk, nbc news, new york.