NFL Hall of Fame linebacker Nick Buoniconti can’t tie his shoes or read a book anymore, nor can he believe the game he loved so much has robbed him of life’s smallest joys. In October 2016, Buoniconti was diagnosed with neurodegenerative dementia, Sports Illustrated reported.
“I can’t remember how to tie a tie, I can’t remember how to lace my shoes,” Buoniconti, 75, told Sports Illustrated in an emotional video interview. “My left arm won’t do what my brain tells it to do.”
Buoniconti, a two-time Super Bowl champion and co-captain of the revered 1972 undefeated Miami Dolphins, is suffering from memory loss, neurocognitive and neuromotor deficits.
“The answer would be no — I would not have played football,” Buoniconti, whose linebacker son also suffered injuries from the game, told Sports Illustrated. After a helmet-first tackle in 1985, Marc Buoniconti, then a linebacker at Citadel, was left a quadriplegic.
Nick Buoniconti’s wife, Lynn, said she noticed some of the first signs of dementia about five years ago but thought they may be related to age.
“I was diagnosed with many concussions — at least 10,” Buoniconti, who is now considered a fall-risk and has around-the-clock help, told Sports Illustrated. “Super Bowl VI against the Dallas Cowboys, I was knocked silly, and I really don’t remember much about the game.”
Buoniconti is critical of the NFL and said he feels the league hasn’t done enough to protect players in the long-term. He said the league’s $1 billion concussion settlement is for the NFL, not the players.
“CTE [chronic traumatic encephalopathy] to me is something that the NFL doesn’t recognize until you die — that to me is the biggest criminal act,” he told Sports Illustrated. “I feel forgotten. I just wish they would think of the guys who did pave the way. This is not a game we’re playing — this is life or death.”
Lynn revealed Buoniconti has sought treatment at UCLA, but he said his symptoms are only worsening. He no longer golfs and can’t read the sports section of a newspaper.
“When you start taking everything away from someone, they want to give up, so my challenge every day is not having Nick give up,” she told Sports Illustrated.
“I am navigated by trying to keep a positive attitude and remembering all the unbelievable times Nick and I had together,” Lynn continued. “That sustains me through this time that is really, really difficult because Nick is my best friend — and he still is — he’s just a different best friend now.”
Buoniconti’s brain will be donated to Boston University for research after his death, Sports Illustrated reported.