Frank Gifford, the Hall of Fame football star and broadcaster who died in August at age 84, had chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a brain disease often associated with concussions, his family said Wednesday.
Gifford, a matinée idol and halfback for the New York Giants for 12 seasons ending in 1964, was the husband of TODAY co-host Kathie Lee Gifford. His family's announcement Wednesday came less than a day after the National Football League convened a mandatory conference call with the trainers of all 32 NFL teams to stress the importance of proper treatment of players who show symptoms of concussion.
A judge last year approved a $765 million settlement between the NFL and hundreds of former players over the league's supervision of head injuries. That settlement is being revisited as inadequate under a court ruling last month.
The deaths of several famous former players — including those of Junior Seau and Dave Duerson — have been tied to CTE, a dementia-like disease often caused by multiple head traumas. In 2013, NFL legend Tony Dorsett announced that he had been diagnosed with signs of CTE.
"We as a family made the difficult decision to have [Gifford's] brain studied in hopes of contributing to the advancement of medical research concerning the link between football and traumatic brain injury," Gifford's family said in a statement.
"Our suspicions that he was suffering from the debilitating effects of head trauma were confirmed when a team of pathologists recently diagnosed his condition as that of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) — a progressive degenerative brain disease," it said.
One of the most famous photographs in football history, taken during a 1960 game at Yankee Stadium, shows Gifford unconscious on the field after a crunching hit by the Philadelphia Eagles' Chuck Bednarik. At the time, Gifford was diagnosed with a concussion and sat out the entire 1961 season to recover.
"We have great respect and sympathy for the Gifford family," the Giants said in a statement Wednesday afternoon. "We all miss Frank dearly. We support the family's decision to contribute to the discussion and research of an issue we take very seriously."
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said early Wednesday evening that Gifford was "a beloved member of the NFL family" who "exemplified everything good about our game."
"We appreciate the Gifford family's desire to help the medical community understand more about CTE, and we are grateful for their support of the league's efforts to improve safety in our game," Goodell said in a statement.