Former Clemson wide receiver Dwight Clark has been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better know as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Clark, who went on to play nine NFL seasons with the San Francisco 49ers, announced the diagnosis in a statement Sunday night.
“In September of 2015, I started feeling weakness in my left hand,” Clark said. “I was mildly paying attention to it because since my playing days, I’ve constantly had pain in my neck. I was thinking it was related to some kind of nerve damage because it would just come and go.
“After months of tests and treatment, I got some bad news. I was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. I have ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Those words are still very hard for me to say.”
Clark, who played at Clemson from 1975-78, is best known for his game-winning touchdown catch in the 1981 NFC Championship Game against the Dallas Cowboys, which has been known ever since as “The Catch” and remains to this day one of the most famous plays in NFL history.
A two-time All-Pro selection and two-time Super Bowl champion with the 49ers, Clark had his number (87) retired by the 49ers in 1988, the same year he was inducted into the Clemson Athletic Hall of Fame. Clark was the general manager of the 49ers in 1998 and of the Cleveland Browns from 1999-2001.
Since his announcement Sunday night, Clark has received messages of support from throughout the country.
Former Clemson coach Danny Ford, who coached the offensive line during Clark’s final two seasons as a Tiger and was the interim coach for Clark’s final game at Clemson (1978 Gator Bowl), said he “would do anything in the world to help Dwight.”
“Anybody would,” Ford said. “He’s a great person, great man.”
In his statement published to debartoloholdings.com, Clark said he believes playing football could be a cause for the degenerative disease.
“I’ve been asked if playing football caused this,” Clark said. “I don’t know for sure. But I certainly suspect it did.”
Other former football players who have been diagnosed with ALS in recent years include Steve Gleason, who played seven NFL seasons with the New Orleans Saints, and Tim Shaw, who played six years in the NFL.
Kevin Turner, who played with Clemson coach Dabo Swinney at Alabama, spent eight years in the NFL and is the father of current Clemson safety Nolan Turner, died last March after his own battle with ALS. Researchers later determined that Turner had chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a brain disease caused by repeated blows to the head, which led to his ALS.
“In addition to losing strength in my left hand – which makes opening a pack of sugar or buttoning my shirt impossible – I have now experienced weakness in my right hand, abs, lower back and right leg,” Clark said. “I can’t run, play golf or walk any distances. Picking up anything over 30 pounds is a chore. The one piece of good news is that the disease seems to be progressing more slowly than in some patients.”
Clark says he hopes to be able to assist in finding a cure for ALS.
“While I’m still trying to wrap my head around the challenge I will face with this disease over the coming years, the only thing I know is that I’m going to fight like hell and live every day to the fullest,” Clark said.