If Jets rookie Jamal Adams thinks the “perfect place to die” is on a football field, the ex-wife of the late Steelers offensive lineman Justin Strzelczyk, who was diagnosed with the degenerative brain disease, chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) after his death in 2004, says Adams is in for a rude awakening down the road.
“I don’t even know what to say. This guy (Adams) doesn’t know what’s coming down the pipeline. He has no idea what dealing with someone who has CTE is like,” says Keana McMahon, who officially divorced Strzelczyk nine months before the hulking former Steeler intentionally drove his pickup truck into oncoming traffic on the New York State Thruway and died at age 36 in a fiery crash after his vehicle collided with a tractor-trailer.
Adams, who is just 21 years old, made the remarks Monday at a fan forum at the Jets’ New Jersey training site. McMahon says while she was married to Strzelczyk for eight years, he suffered from mood swings and erratic behavior — common symptoms of CTE, which has been linked to individuals who sustain repetitive head trauma. She adds that the two children she had with Strzelczyk were at times scared of their father’s volatile behavior when they were younger. After Strzelczyk’s death, McMahon says her son, Justin Jr., and daughter, Sabrina, struggled emotionally, and that McMahon took Sabrina to therapy for years, as she battled suicidal thoughts.
“I bet my kids would want their father here. I know in my heart of hearts that Justin would have wanted to see his daughter get married someday or see his son graduate from college, not dying on a football field. To me (Adams) is sh—ing on Justin’s grave,” says McMahon.
Dave Duerson, the former Bears and Giants safety who died of a self-inflicted gunshot to his chest in 2011 at age 50, was also diagnosed with CTE after death. Thomas Demetrio, a partner at the Chicago firm Corboy Demetrio who represents the Duerson family, says Adams, 21, not only made a “terrible statement” Monday before fans and with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell seated by his side, but that Adams sent the wrong message to kids who look up to athletes as role models.
“Unfortunately these players don’t die on the playing field in a sudden-death fashion,” says Demetrio. “They die a horrible death later in life, and leading up to in many cases, suicide. This is not a badge of honor for the gladiator who played 13 years in the NFL or two weeks. It’s a real problem. The macho, tough-guy mentality has to change. I would commend to this rookie (Adams), that he go see the movie, ‘Concussion.’”
Meanwhile, Glenn Foley, the former Jets quarterback, says he read Adams’ comments, but that to Foley, it was more Adams making “an uneducated statement.”
“The applause tells the story,” says Foley, referring to the fans’ reaction after Adams’ remarks Monday. “But Goodell should have squashed it immediately, and said, ‘We’re in the process of educating players.’ CTE is real. Adams is 20-something years old, stir crazy right now, in the New York spotlight. I don’t blame him for saying that. But to ignore CTE is to ignore the facts. That’s not the message the NFL wants.”