The descent of Fred McNeill

As we continue to hear more about the suicide of former Chicago Bears safety Dave Duerson, I want to call to your attention a stunning piece that appears in the March edition of GQ magazine. In it, Jeanne Marie Laskas profiles former Minnesota Vikings linebacker Fred McNeill's descent into memory loss and depression.

McNeill, 58, played 12 seasons for the Vikings from 1974-85. He earned a law degree from William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul and lived in the Twin Cities until 1999. Now, he is struggling with the simplest of short-term memory tasks. Here is a haunting excerpt from the story: A telephone conversation between McNeill and his wife, Tia, who is waiting for him to meet her car in front of his apartment.

"Am I what?" Fred says.

"Are you coming down? I'm waiting."

"You're waiting?"

"Fred, I'm out here waiting!"

"Oh, okay, I'll come down."

"Don't forget the suitcase," she says.


"Remember I need my suitcase back?"

He does not remember anything about a suitcase.

"Fred, I just told you ten minutes ago that I am outside waiting for you and to bring me the suitcase," she says.

"It's too early for karaoke," he says.

"Coffee," she says. "I am taking you out for coffee. Now, come on."

"Coffee. That sounds good."

"Please hurry, Fred."

"So what I'm going to do is, I'm going to put my shoes on, and I'm going to get my briefcase, and I am going to get you the suitcase, and I am going to come downstairs, and we are going to get coffee."

"Why are you bringing your briefcase?"

"I need to go to the office."

"No, you don't, Fred."

"Can we stop by the office?"

"Just come downstairs."

The larger question of Laskas' piece is whether long-term health risks have trumped the benefits of playing professional football. I have a feeling we're going to be hearing a lot more about that issue, and justifiably so, in the months and years ahead.