Team's Career Sacks Leader Says He Has Been Diagnosed With Dementia, Alzheimer's And Parkinson's

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Mark Gastineau is trying to help sack safety issues in football.

And the former New York Jets sack-dancing star wants to use himself as an example of the dangers of playing the game.

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The 60-year-old Gastineau said during a radio interview Thursday night with Pete McCarthy on 710 WOR Radio in New York that he was diagnosed with dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease about a year ago.

“It’s disturbing,” Gastineau said. “But it’s disturbing to the point where I want to get out and I want to help other youths and help other people coming into the game. Right now, I’m able to do it.”

Mark Gastineau (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)

Mark Gastineau (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)

The Jets’ career sacks leader, who was known for his entertaining dances after taking down quarterbacks from 1979-88, believes his issues are largely related to his hard-playing style.

“When my results came back, I had dementia, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s,” Gastineau said. “Those were three things that I have. … It’s something that I want every player that goes out and plays to be protected in the best way they can be protected.”

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Gastineau was promoting USA Football’s Heads Up Football program, which focuses on making the game safer. The former defensive end says the techniques the program teaches could have helped prevent his health issues.

“I’m not going to say that I’m not going to let my child play when I know there’s techniques out there that if I would have had them,” Gastineau said, “I know that I wouldn’t have the results that I have now.”

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Gastineau said he learned the “head, stick and hands” technique as a youngster while playing the game at various levels.

“When we would hit each other, I mean, you heard pops like a shotgun going off,” he said.

Gastineau plugged the USA Football program a few times during the 30-minute interview, and insisted he didn’t want his situation to “overshadow” what “Heads Up Football” can do to help young players continue to play the game — but safely.

“I want it to be a warning to mothers and fathers to be able to put their kids in safe places,” he said, “to be able to carry on a team sport that I think is going to be way far more beneficial for them than if they didn’t have that in their lives.”

He also disagreed with former football and baseball star Bo Jackson, who recently said he wouldn’t allow his children to play football.

“I think that if he would have known about the Heads Up program, I don’t think that he would have said that he never would have let his kids play,” Gastineau said. “The only reason that I would allow my child to play is because of this I would not allow my child to play if I did not have this Heads Up Football. There’s no way in the world. You cannot expect your child not to be injured if you do not enter this program.”

Gastineau insisted that, despite his health issues, he has no regrets when it comes to his football career.

“I am so happy that I went through the times, the trials and things that I went through in the NFL,” Gastineau said. “I wouldn’t trade them for anything.”

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