"I wanted to share some unfortunate news: I have ALS."
It's rare when a random tweet from someone you've never even met can have a very real impact on you, but that was exactly the case on Sunday evening as I scrolled through my feed and came across former 49ers wide receiver Dwight Clark's announcement on my timeline.
To understand why it took me aback, I have to set the scene a bit: After church and then lunch, I had spent the entire day at a local waterpark with my wife and two daughters. It was an awesome day interacting with them all as well as watching my 5- and 3-year-olds play together in the water, at the arcade, etc. It was the kind of day where I looked at my wife on multiple occasions and remarked at how fortunate and blessed we are.
Fast forward a couple hours later as I get into bed and see the Clark news on my phone. It threw a shadow over the great day I had with my family.
My initial reaction was one of surprise and sadness for Clark and his family. ALS, by all accounts, is an awful disease that nobody should have to suffer through.
I'm not sure if this means I am self-centered or if this is just human nature, but my immediate next reaction was, "What if that happens to me?"
While the odds are probably still very small that I would be diagnosed with ALS, it seems like all of the documented cases among former NFL players hit close to home for one reason or another.
Living in Pennsylvania, I've watched Penn State quite a bit and former Raiders fullback Steve Smith and Titans linebacker Tim Shaw are both former Nittany Lions that suffer from ALS. Even Steve Gleason, the most well-known of the former players suffering from ALS as a result of his tireless advocacy, has a bit of a personal connection as he was a high school teammate of a former college teammate of mine at Princeton.
Point is, these are real people whose lives have been greatly altered by this horrible disease and the thought crosses my mind from time to time that I could be next. How could it not?
It may not be ALS. Maybe it will be the symptoms brought on by CTE or dementia, like Hall of Fame running back Gale Sayers is reportedly suffering from. As an Eagles fan until I made it to the NFL, I remember watching fullback Kevin Turner, who died of CTE last year.
The bottom line is there is a possibility, and as much as I used my head as a player, it's certainly possible that I will one day be one of the former players suffering in some way as a result of playing the game as long as I did.
And I'm not the only one that thinks that way.
"It was shocking," former teammate of mine and 15-year NFL linebacker Takeo Spikes told me when I asked him on the Ross Tucker Football Podcast for his initial reaction to the Clark news, adding, "First thing in my mind was wondering if football had anything to do with it. That's always the first thing that I think about whenever anything like this happens … he's only 60 years old."
"It makes you slow down and say 'what if?'" Spikes continued. "I never try to worry myself to death about what may happen but I do pay attention to what is going on and I think you have to when you had some affiliation with the game of football."
Spikes' point about not spending a lot of time worrying is a good one, but the thought about the best way to go about my life has crossed my mind from time to time, including shortly after Clark's diagnosis.
Do I live life in a more aggressive manner in terms of going on vacations and things of that ilk anticipating that at some point something brain related may rob me of my faculties? Or do I live anticipating a long and healthy life and if something affects me cognitively down the line, adjust at that point?
I'm not sure there is a right or wrong answer, but that doesn't mean I won't ask myself and my wife that question from time to time.
Especially when news like that of Clark's diagnosis breaks.