Playing 15 seasons of professional football took a serious toll on Gary Plummer.
After three years in the USFL, Plummer spent eight seasons as a linebacker for the San Diego Chargers before rounding out his career with four seasons for the San Francisco 49ers. In the years since his playing career concluded in 1997, Plummer told NBC Sports Bay Area’s Matt Maiocco on The 49ers Insider Podcast that he suffered memory problems, headaches, severe anxiety and struggled sleeping for 10-15 years.
Those symptoms, Plummer said, came on the heels of an estimated 2,500 concussions he believes he sustained over the course of his career.
A Grade 1 concussion is considered “mild.” It might consist of a person “seeing stars,” brief confusion and no loss of consciousness. But it is still a concussion with a potentially devastating cumulative effect.
“If you’re not getting at least 10 of those a game, as a middle linebacker in the NFL, that means you didn’t play that day,” Plummer said. “I played 250 games. So [with] at least 10 a game, that’s 2,500 concussions.”
Plummer told Maiocco that he went years without addressing those symptoms, but that changed after Junior Seau committed suicide in May 2012. Seau, a 12-time Pro Bowl selection, was a friend of Plummer’s. After his death, studies of his brain showed that Seau suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).
Plummer, 58, said Seau’s death was a wake-up call. Since then, after a diagnosis of early onset dementia, he has worked to rehabilitate his brain. It’s been a “slow” process, he said, but he has been able to dramatically improve the quality of his life.
Plummer enacted some changes in his lifestyle, such as practicing yoga, meditation, learning to play a musical instrument and spending countless hours gardening in the backyard of his San Diego home.
“I’m close to 75 percent better now,” Plummer said. “I wish more players understand early onset dementia is something that happens to us from the CTE, from all the concussions. Basically, what it’s doing is aging our brains faster than normal. So all these things I had been going through were accelerated by what I came to know after my career, in terms of the definition of concussions.”
During his 12 seasons in the NFL, Plummer appeared in 180 games, starting 163, and registered 997 tackles. His best statistical season was 1989, when he finished the year with 146 stops.
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