Thurman Thomas suffers from uncontrollable mood swings and is unable to keep his focus.
The Buffalo Bills' Hall of Fame running back made those sobering admissions Friday while giving a keynote speech at the International Concussion Summit at the Hilton in Niagara Falls, Ont.
Thomas' comments, which he said are his first publicly on the topic, were first reported by the Niagara Falls Review.
"Still to this day, I can’t control my mood swings," he said during the speech. "On so many days, I have to apologize to my family for them. I thank God that I have a family that understands the things that I’ve been through over my 13-year (professional) career, and even after my 14 or 15 years that I’ve been retired. They all understand that with my mood swings, sometimes I just can’t help it.”
Thomas, who turns 50 next month, retired in 2001 following a 13-year professional career. He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2007.
He told the audience he thinks he suffered "a couple" concussions during his college career at Oklahoma State, but he didn't pay much attention to them.
"When I started playing football as a little kid, the last thing on my mind was, ‘Will I be able to walk when I’m 50?' " he said, according to the newspaper. "Will I be able to keep a train of thought when I’m 45? When I’m 50, will I suffer from uncontrollable mood swings? And even worse, will someday I be so depressed that I would take my own life?"
Thomas said treatment of possible concussions in those days amounted to taking "a couple Tylenol."
"You got right back out there because you just didn't know," he said.
The summit, which was hosted by the District School Board of Niagara, is designed to give coaches an opportunity to learn from medical experts how to properly identify and treat concussions in young athletes.
During Thomas' speech, the Review noted that he told the audience he can’t keep his focus or a train of thought “for very long, so I take notes with me everywhere."
He shared the story of how he had to pull off the road and call his wife, Patti, a couple years ago after realizing he didn't know where he was – even though it was the same route he drives every day.
"She said, 'You need to come back home,' " Thomas said, calling it one of the most difficult phone calls he's ever had to make. "I knew that there was a problem."
A short time later, Thomas told the audience he went for an MRI. The images of the frontal lobe of his brain, Thomas said, were similar to someone who had suffered head trauma by having their head go through the windshield of a car several times.
"It hasn't gotten any better," Thomas told the audience, according to the Review. "It's getting worse."
Thomas' story is sadly one that is not unique to former NFL players. His former teammate, linebacker Daryl Talley, spoke openly to The Buffalo News in 2014 about the physical pain and mental anguish he's endured since the end of his playing career.
Thomas, however, told the audience Friday that he has maintained his silence because he wanted to learn more about the topic.
“One thing that I realized is that discussing the effects of concussions and the reality of the situation doesn’t make me less of a man, less tough, less loyal to the National Football League, a less love for the game,” he said. “All it means is that I’m not an ignorant fool, and that I don’t ignore factual evidence that this is happening to not only football players, but" other athletes.
Story topics: Thurman Thomas