Brain disease ‘shook my world,’ NBC 5’s Mike Adamle says

Mike Adamle (Photo: NBC Chicago)

Mike Adamle’s football career brought him fame, glory and a disease that could cost him everything.

The 67-year-old Adamle, who played for the Chicago Bears and Northwestern Wildcats, has disclosed he's been diagnosed with dementia, the final stage of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease doctors attribute to repeated concussions and other head injuries on the field. Doctors also say football likely caused the epilepsy he has fought for 19 years.

Since last March Adamle has been on personal leave from his job as sports anchor at WMAQ-Channel 5. Any chance that he’ll return to broadcasting was dispelled Tuesday in the first of a two-part interview that aired on the NBC-owned station.

“It shook my world,” Adamle told NBC 5 colleague Peggy Kusinski of his struggle, “and it just got kind of a little bit worse sometimes every day.” While CTE cannot be diagnosed with certainty until after a person's death, Adamle shows every sign of the illness, Kusinski said, including what he acknowledged were frequent mood swings, episodes of rage, depression and anxiety. “I think that they kind of go hand in hand,” he said of the latter two symptoms.

Kusinski reported that Adamle no longer can work or drive a car. “He wears a fanny pack with his ID, house keys and phone just in case he gets lost or can’t remember where he’s going,” she said.

Adamle told her: “Here’s what happens: You come over, you could do an interview with me, and you’ll leave, and I’ll say: ‘Oh god, who is that, you know?’ ”

The decision to speak out at this time was Adamle’s alone, according to multiple sources, and was not tied to the Nielsen rating sweep, which began February 2.

“Mike has not been ready to publicly discuss his illness until now,” said Frank Whittaker, station manager and vice president of news at NBC 5. “He’s coming forward now to explain his illness, and hopefully help others in the future.”

The Ohio native and son of Cleveland Browns player Tony Adamle was an All-American running back for Northwestern and spent seven seasons in the NFL, where he played for the Bears, Kansas City Chiefs and New York Jets.

After retiring from the NFL in 1977, Adamle turned to television, including two stints at NBC 5 (the first starting in 1998 and the latest since 2004). In addition to working for ABC-owned WLS-Channel 7 and CBS-owned WBBM-Channel 2, he also reported for NBC Sports, ABC Sports and ESPN, and hosted World Wrestling Entertainment and the syndicated “American Gladiators.”

How difficult is it for the former pro athlete and Iron Man competitor to deal with the challenges he faces now? Said Adamle: “Well, the only way that I can extend, you know, my life and be around to see my daughters get married and, you know, live happily ever after with your wife, I want to be able to do that.”