Dwight Clark says he has ALS, suspects football a cause

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One of the San Francisco 49ers' all-time greats, Dwight Clark, announced Sunday night he has ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease, and he suspects football led to his diagnosis. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar, File)

Dwight Clark revealed Sunday that he has Lou Gehrig's disease and suspects playing football might have caused the illness.

Clark announced on Twitter that he has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a disease that attacks cells that control muscles. The former San Francisco 49ers wide receiver linked to a post on his personal blog detailing his ALS diagnosis, but the site crashed Sunday night, apparently from an overflow of traffic.

"I've been asked if playing football caused this," Clark said in the post. "I don't know for sure. But I certainly suspect it did."

The 60-year-old Clark wrote that he began experiencing symptoms in September 2015. He's lost significant strength in his left hand and also has weakness in his right hand, midsection, lower back and right leg.

"I can't run, play golf or walk any distances," he said. "Picking up anything over 30 pounds is a chore. The one piece of good news is that the disease seems to be progressing more slowly than in some patients."

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Clark won two Super Bowls with the 49ers during a nine-year career that ended in 1987. He memorably pulled down the winning touchdown pass from Joe Montana in the 1981 NFC Championship Game against the Dallas Cowboys, a play remembered simply as "The Catch."

Clark, whose No. 87 has been retired by the 49ers, also encouraged the NFL and the players' association to work together in making football safer.

San Francisco CEO Jed York said in a statement he was "deeply saddened" by Clark's diagnosis.

"Many know Dwight as an iconic figure in 49ers lore, whose accomplishments on the field brought joy to fans around the world," York said. "Our organization is fortunate to know him more intimately as a wonderful man who has given so much of himself as an ambassador to the entire Bay Area. We will stand alongside Dwight and his family as they wage this battle."

After his playing career ended, Clark served as general manager of the 49ers and Cleveland Browns.

Here's Clark's letter in its entirety:

"In September of 2015, I started feeling weakness in my left hand. I was mildly paying attention to it because since my playing days, I've constantly had pain in my neck. I was thinking it was related to some kind of nerve damage because it would just come and go.

After months of tests and treatment, I got some bad news. I was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

I have ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. Those words are still very hard for me to say.

While I'm still trying to wrap my head around the challenge I will face with this disease over the coming years, the only thing I know is that I'm going to fight like hell and live every day to the fullest.

There is no test that will positively diagnose you with ALS. You have to eliminate the possibility of all other diseases and disorders and then wait to see what additional symptoms you develop. I visited six neurologists and three ALS specialists. I also was treated for a B12 deficiency, which sometimes can mirror the symptoms of this debilitating disease.

In addition to losing strength in my left hand - which makes opening a pack of sugar or buttoning my shirt impossible - I have now experienced weakness in my right hand, abs, lower back and right leg. I can't run, play golf or walk any distances. Picking up anything over 30 pounds is a chore. The one piece of good news is that the disease seems to be progressing more slowly than in some patients.

I've been asked if playing football caused this. I don't know for sure. But I certainly suspect it did. And I encourage the NFLPA and the NFL to continue working together in their efforts to make the game of football safer, especially as it relates to head trauma.

What I do know is I have a huge battle in front of me and I'm grateful for the strength and unconditional love from my wife Kelly. She has been my rock. She keeps thinking positive and convinces me each day that we can beat this, as does my daughter Casey and my son Mac. My brother Jeff, his wife Debra and their family also have been unwavering with their love and support.
I get the same pep talk from the Boss, Eddie D. His support has been incredible. So rest assured, I know I'm not alone in this fight.

Every single one of my 49ers teammates that have contacted me has said whatever I need, anytime I need it, they will help. That's just the kind of guys they are. They were so giving as players and now they are the same as friends.

I can't thank my teammates and friends enough for their support. Mr. D always treated us like family and that family is still together. I also want to thank all the great 49ers fans. Your support over the last 35 years has allowed me to remain connected to you. Rarely does a day go by when I'm not asked about 'the Catch,' when we were able to get past the Cowboys and go on to win our first Super Bowl.

I'm not having a press conference or doing any interviews. That time will come. Right now, I've got work to do. I've got to devote all my energy preparing for this battle and I would hope you can respect my family's privacy as I begin this challenge. My ultimate hope is that eventually, I can assist in finding a cure for ALS, which disrupts the lives of so many and their loved ones."


The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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