In the midst of relocation and draft talk, sadness fell over Raider Nation. The families of two members of the Raiders family suffered heartbreak. Former tight end, Derrick Jensen, died at the age of 60 on Friday. Additionally, former running back, Charlie Garner, disclosed that doctors informed him that he shows the symptoms of CTE. With this news, it gives fans and writers alike a moment to reflect and realize how brutal football is.
The Oakland Raiders selected him in the third round of the 1978 NFL Draft. Although he only started twenty-one of 106 games, Jensen contributed heavily on special teams. For example, his blocked punt and touchdown started the Raiders on their way to a 38-9 beat down of Washington. Serving as special teams captain for five years, Jensen earned the respect of teammates and coaches with his fearless attitude.
After his career ended, the Seahawks hired Jensen as a scout. For 22 seasons, Jensen worked to build the Seahawks into a contender and eventual champion. Unfortunately, doctors diagnosed him with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) in 2012. While many Raiders’ fans may not remember Jensen by name, his effort, hustle and heart will remain forever etched on the soul of this team.
With lightning quick cuts and sound decision making, Garner suited up for Oakland for three years. Well respected by his teammates, Garner’s size belied his toughness. Listed at 5’10” and 190 pounds, he ran tougher than some 210-pound backs. Now, in his mid-40s, Garner faces a daunting, uphill climb. Showing the symptoms of CTE means an uncertain future.
What is CTE?
Basically, CTE is a brain disease caused by repeated shots to the head. Over time, the brain degenerates and symptoms begin to increase. Back in the day, people labeled this condition as punch drunk. As it relates to football, think of the repeated collisions and the brain slamming against different sides of the skull.
Too many times, social media and fans in general, boast how tough players from yesterday were. That may be true, but few realize the price paid. Football by nature is a brutal sport. Sure, we cheer for the players, but ignore one fact; they are human. These are sons, fathers, brothers, and cousins that lace up their cleats to play. Granted, football careers generally do not last long, but the effects of the game last forever. When the pads come off for the last time, that athlete faces the rest of their life with pain. Why else are so many players retiring so early? Names like Junior Seau, Mike Webster and others who took their lives due to brain injury, have begun to open eyes to the consequences of the permanent impact.
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Retired Raiders fullback, Steve Smith, now lives with ALS. For the last eleven years, he’s been forced to use a feeding tube and ventilator. A ferocious lead blocker, Smith opened holes for rushing greats, Bo Jackson and Marcus Allen. ALS has robbed him of his motor skills, yet he battles on.
Players like Jensen, Garner, and Smith are not asking pity or tears, however, their stories are not uncommon. As Raiders, they’re part of the family and tradition. The high cost of football remains high. We must appreciate all players while they play, as they make life altering sacrifices for our entertainment, and wish the best for them when they leave. With that said, remember Al Davis’ quote “Once a Raider, always a Raider.”