Independent Notre Dame Football Players Medical Research Project

Editors Note:  This article first appeared in the August 2018 edition of the Golden Domer.  Due to a system conversion in 2020, it was no longer available for viewing.  Publication of this article does not represent an endorsement by the ND Senior Alumni Group or from the University.      


The medical field is still working on understanding the relationship between sports, head trauma, and mental impairment. Now, hundreds of Notre Dame football players have stepped up to help.

Their Greatest Legacy

We’ve all seen the headlines connecting football, head trauma, and mental impairment. The numbers can be harsh. In 2014, the NFL stated publicly that it expected nearly one-third of its retired professional players to develop long-term cognitive problems.

Look around, however, and you may wonder if any research on this issue has taken place at the college football level. For various reasons—some purely logistical--the answer to that query has been “no.”

Until now.

This year, The Independent Notre Dame Football Players Medical Research Project was initiated. The purpose of this project is to assess the long-term medical impact of playing major college football on a variety of potential physical and mental impairments.

ND players may very well be the first college-level group in the country to publicly bring this discussion into a clinical research context.

“Our plan includes a major medical study of about 500 former ND football players,” explains former quarterback Tom Clements ’75. “They come from the seventeen football seasons of Ara Parseghian (1964-1974) and Dan Devine (1975-1980). Today, they range in age from 58 to 75 years old.”

Boston University Medical Center (well known for its head trauma research) is partnering with the players on what will be a multi-year project. Each participant will complete an initial medical survey, and these data will be used to build a comprehensive player data base. As the player ages, his information will be updated.

“We have a group of distinguished NIH (National Institutes of Health) research neurologists and prominent treating physicians on our players steering committee,” adds Clements. “And they believe this study will be a groundbreaking project. It has the potential to greatly benefit this field of medical research, our own ND players, and those that follow in our footsteps at various levels of the sport.”

While the study is a completely independent effort by the former players, the University has welcomed this research project.

Committee co-chairs are Rocky Bleier ’68, Dave Casper ’74, and Vagas Ferguson ’80. The not-for-profit association spent this past year tracking down the 1964-1980 players. Participation is 100% voluntary.

“The player data base is now 99% complete. Plus the players successfully raised their $50,000 share of the study’s costs among themselves,” said Clements. “BU Medical Center agreed to pay the lion’s share of the costs.”

Pulling together hundreds of teammates from decades back. Partnering with a national medical research center.  Raising the initial funds. Speaking with one voice. The players believe that this research goes to the heart of our University’s mission.

From the players association:

“This may simply be one of those life situations that requires no more of us than that we recognize that we are in the right place at the right time to act and perhaps make a difference in the world. Though the players in this study won three national football championships at Notre Dame, this study may turn out to be our greatest legacy.”

Our prayers are with these Fighting Irish men as they navigate this journey during the years ahead.

If you are a player from the 1964-1980 cohort who hasn’t been contacted by the Former Football Players Medical Research Project steering committee, please email Tom Clements at tcrocks2@icloud.com.

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