Hall of Famer Forrest Gregg fighting Parkinson’s

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Gregg first noticed something was wrong while giving a speech in his hometown of Sulphur Springs, Texas, in February.

“Being a football player and a coach, those guys are all loud, and I noticed that my voice had softened considerably,” Gregg said. “And I wasn’t getting around as well as I had been. I started to stoop over. And I didn’t like that.”

Gregg also noticed his left hand trembling. At first he thought maybe these symptoms were just signs of advancing age. His wife and daughter persuaded him to seek medical help.

Gregg’s neurologist said the former football player’s fitness, lifelong fondness for exercise and fighter’s mentality will aid him in his battle.

Kumar stressed that it’s uncertain whether Gregg’s diagnosis is a result of playing football, although he noted that research shows there is a link between head injuries and neurological disorders later in life.

And Gregg suffered countless concussions during his college and pro seasons.

“One time in college, I went over to the other team’s bench,” Gregg recalled. “I woke up with an ice pack on the back of my neck and I said, ‘What’s going on?’ They said, ‘You’ve been gone for a while.’ So that’s what I know about concussions. That’s what I know about getting hit.”

Kumar said Gregg’s many concussions may very well have served as a trigger for Parkinson’s.

“We know that prior head injury also increases the risk of getting dementia or Alzheimer’s disease and increasingly there’s a recognition players who have played in the NFL who have had prior head injuries — which is just about everybody — have a substantially increased risk of getting Alzheimer’s disease. We don’t know if that also applies to Parkinson’s, but my guess is that it probably does,” Kumar said.

Kumar, who said he’s also diagnosed another former NFL player with Parkinson’s, praised the NFL’s crackdown on illegal hits to the head and new protocol on concussions.

Gregg said he would still have chosen to play the sport even if he’d known there would be a price to pay later in life.

“It might have caused me to shorten my career. But I don’t know what I would have done differently,” Gregg said.

A guard and tackle, Gregg is one of three NFL players to win a-half dozen NFL championships, including the first two Super Bowls with the Packers. Gregg finished his career with another Super Bowl title with the Cowboys in 1971.

He went on to coach the Bengals, Browns and Packers, compiling a record of 75-85-1. He led Cincinnati to the Super Bowl after the 1981 season, where the Bengals lost to San Francisco 26-21 on Joe Montana’s last-minute comeback.

Although his motor symptoms began to show up over the last year or two, Gregg’s wife, Barbara, said he began acting out his dreams about 15 years ago. Kumar said this phenomenon, known as REM sleep behavior disorder, was a possible early warning sign of Parkinson’s.

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