PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. — Joe Namath, 71, was one of the most revered players of his time.
Star quarterback for the New York Jets for thirteen seasons. Super Bowl champion. Hall-of-famer.He was a star off the field too. Broadway Joe – a celebrity by the time he was 25 years old. But all those years of hard hits left some lasting damage. Namath told WPBF 25's Tiffany Kenney he suffered several concussions.
I suffered several 'get-your-bell-rung' hits.... whether you hit the ground and get your bell rung or or get hit by a forearm several times. Of course, going back to high school even." Those concussions left Namath wondering about his health and rethinking how he felt about the game he loved to play. He told Kenney knowing what he now knows about traumatic brain injury, he would not play football again. "I hate to say that because if I had a child who wanted to play I'd let them play... but I'd wait till he developed a little more."
Namath added, "This instrument that we have that we have been blessed with ... it's not designed for the kind of contact or physical abuse your body gets playing this sport." Nearly three years ago, Namath was having normal age-related forgetfulness. He started to worry after several former star players, including teammate and friend Dave Herman, were diagnosed with a degenerative brain disease after years of repetitive hits to the head.
Namath said, "They shed some light for a whole lot of us ... that 'hey I better check into this.'" Dr. Lee Fox, chief of radiology at Jupiter Medical Center, oversaw Namath's brain scans. Fox told Kenney, "He knew he wasn't 100 percent but he didn't realize that he really had significant problems." Brain scans showed parts of his brain weren't getting the oxygen they needed. It was part of the brain that has to do with word recognition, short term memory and sleep. Namath became Patient Zero for what would become a ground-breaking clinical trial at Jupiter Medical Center. For seven months, five days a week, he spent an hour inside a hyperbaric oxygen chamber. Oxygen has long been used to treat wounds and now doctors wanted to see if it could heal traumatic brain injuries by waking up cells and revitalizing them. Dr. Barry Miskin, medical director of hyperbarics at Jupiter Medical Center, told Kenney, "What it does is it uses oxygen as a drug, and it takes oxygen under pressure and the oxygen is able to get to areas that normally wouldn't be able to get to because of injured tissue by putting it at higher pressure." After his first round of treatments, Namath felt better. His brain scans showed immediate improvement. There is no sign of any damage. Namath said, "The scans are beautiful. and I really feel like I've gotten sharper. I feel better than ever."