Updated: 4:27 p.m. | Posted: 2:02 p.m.
Former Minnesota Vikings linebacker Fred McNeill has died.
McNeil played for the Vikings for 12 years, retiring in 1985. He was 63.
McNeill's widow, Tia, said her husband suffered from dementia and ALS. She said she believes brain injuries sustained during his football career contributed to his death.
Tia McNeill said her husband still loved football, even though his NFL career took a toll on his health. She wants fans to help her support research into the link between head injuries and a brain disease called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).
"I just feel that we have to continue the research," she said. "We have to continue finding out what can be done to protect current players or other individuals, whether it's football, soccer or whatever, from brain injury."
Tia McNeill said that after her husband retired from football, he developed mood swings and had trouble focusing on his work as an attorney.
McNeill said she contacted Dr. Bennet Omalu, who is regarded as the physician who first discovered CTE in the brains of dead football players, after her husband was diagnosed with dementia in 2009. She said her husband's brain will be donated to CTE research.
Despite an increased interest in the field, researchers haven't been able to draw a clear line connecting head trauma and dementia among athletes, says Michelle Mielke, a brain researcher at the Mayo Clinic. Mielke says researchers still don't know why some people who've sustained traumatic brain injuries develop degenerative conditions like dementia and others don't.
"Fred was a great football player, an excellent lawyer and, most importantly, an outstanding person who carried himself with class, grace, dignity and humility," said Vikings COO Kevin Warren in a statement. "He will be greatly missed."
McNeill had two sons and a granddaughter.
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