Rare Disease Report

Former Dallas Cowboy Tony Liscio Succumbs to ALS

JUNE 20, 2017
James Radke
Former Dallas Cowboys offensive lineman Tony Liscio passed away on June 18.
 
In 2016, Liscio was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) after a fall that broke his hip, and is now among an extensive list of former football players diagnosed with the rare neurodegenerative disease.
 
The disease quickly progressed after diagnosis and he was soon unable to speak and required a feeding tube.
 
ALS, or "Lou Gehrig's Disease," is progressive. Muscle weakness or stiffness are early symptoms of ALS, but as the disease evolves, the patient quickly loses the ability to move, speak, swallow, and eventually breath. Life expectancy of an ALS patient after diagnosis is 2-5 years. 
 
According to his wife, Annette, it was assumed that playing football contributed to his ALS. An autopsy will be performed to see if he also had chronic traumatic encephalopathy, another rare neurological condition that is being linked to concussions and violent sports.  
 
Liscio spent the majority of his 8-year career in Dallas, but had brief, non-active stints in Green Bay, San Diego, and Miami, too. After announcing his retirement in 1971, the Cowboys requested he return for the 1972 season – The Cowboys won the Super Bowl that year.
 
It was well-known that Liscio had no qualms playing injured. In his first game of the 1971 season, Liscio played against the Washington Redskins with his right leg taped from ankle to hip and assumed injuries in both of his shoulders. In spite of it, his matchup for that game, defensive end Vernon Biggs never go to the quarterback.
 
It is likely that playing injured did make Lisco more susceptible to neurological damage later in life, but the correlation still needs to be confirmed. More research is needed to determine whether there is a connection between ALS and violent sports.
 
In 2012, though, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that the risk of dying of ALS is 4 times higher in NFL players than in the general population.
 
Some other former football players recently diagnosed with ALS include Dwight Clark of the San Francisco 49ers, Steve Gleason of the New Orleans Saints, and Tim Shaw of the Tennessee Titans.


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