- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 17, 2014

CHICAGO (AP) - Jim McMahon would leave home and forget how to get back.

Sometimes, he would stay in his room and lie on his back in the dark because the pain in his head was so excruciating. At his darkest moments a few years ago, when it was just about too much to handle, the former Chicago Bears quarterback thought about killing himself.

“I am glad I don’t have any weapons in my house or else I am pretty sure I wouldn’t be here,” McMahon said. “It got to be that bad.”

McMahon opened up about his struggles with early onset dementia and depression in a gathering with a small group of reporters on Tuesday, issues he believes were brought on by the beating he absorbed playing football. He is scheduled to be honored Wednesday in Chicago by the Sports Legacy Institute, a Boston University-based group that has been studying the effects of brain trauma in athletes and others.

While his suicidal thoughts are a thing of the past thanks to treatment that drains spinal fluid from his brain, the fight with dementia continues. The “punky QB” who once helped the Bears shuffle their way to a championship is also digging in for another battle, one that could have major consequences for the NFL.

McMahon is one of several players identified by name in a federal lawsuit filed in California last month accusing teams of illegally dispensing powerful narcotics and other drugs to keep players on the field without regard for their long-term health.

He also is part of a class-action lawsuit in which the NFL agreed to a $765 million settlement without acknowledging it hid the risks of concussions from former players. A federal judge has yet to approve the settlement, expressing concern the amount is too small.

While McMahon wouldn’t discuss the most recent suit, he did talk about the troubles he has faced in recent years, issues he believes took root when he was getting battered on the field.

McMahon said he had three to five diagnosed concussions and who knows how many more that went undiagnosed. That’s in addition injuries to the kidney, broken ribs, an addiction to painkillers and a broken neck that he said team doctors and trainers never told him about.

He found out about five years ago, when he went for X-rays and an MRI. Doctors told him he had broken his neck at some point, and McMahon believes it happened with the Minnesota Vikings during the 1993 season, when he got sandwiched by two Giants defenders in a playoff game at New York.

Nearly broken in two, McMahon couldn’t move his legs at first. He eventually headed to the sideline after about 10 minutes. He didn’t stay there long.

He said he went back in - “like an idiot” - and a defender trying to block a pass grazed his head. McMahon’s legs went numb again and he left the game.

McMahon said the doctor asked him afterward how he felt but did not examine him. He said there’s “no doubt about it,” the team knew his neck was broken.

A message was left Tuesday seeking comment from the Vikings.

The dementia diagnosis came five years ago, after McMahon was having trouble remembering the most basic stuff.

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