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Former Bears QB Jim McMahon opens up about battle with dementia: EXCLUSIVE

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

Jim McMahon spent the first seven years of his career as a Chicago Bear, but among the success and Super Bowl ring, McMahon suffered many injuries, as well as concussions. Now, at the age of 53, McMahon suffers from early stages of dementia.

Fox Chicago's Lou Canellis visited McMahon at his Arizona home to talk exclusively with the super-star quarterback.

McMahon is also one of more than 2,000 retired players suing the NFL and accusing the league of concealing the risks of repetitive brain concussions. While many say the lawsuit is motivated by greed and not need, McMahon says this isn't true.

"The guys that started the lawsuit out...these guys are in dire needs. Both financially and in their health," McMahon says. "I didn't make a lot of money in the '80s, so you know what these guys made. A lot of them had to have jobs in the off season, this and that...I've never had a job other than the NFL, and I hope to never have one. I'm not in it for the money. This is about raising awareness, whether or not these guys knew back then this was going to happen."

One specific season-ending injury Jim McMahon endured is one that many Bears fans remember. It was during a 1986 game where Packers defensive tackle Charles Martin took to Soldier Field with a "hit list" on his towel. At the top of his list was McMahon, who he body slammed during the game and knocked McMahon on his shoulder.

"He could have snapped my neck like a chicken bone," McMahon recalls. "I don't know how it didn't break. That's the last thing I remembered for a while because I was a little dinged on that play. Everybody thought it was my shoulder at the time but it was more my head than shoulder."

Of course, like most pro players, there were many other injuries throughout his career as well. Jim told Fox Chicago that after he survived a tough hit, doctors perform a brief check of how he felt, then let him back in.

"They'd ask you questions, basic questions. Where are you, what day is it? Stuff like that," McMahon explains. "And if you were able to answer that and seem like you were ok they would let you back in."

Back then, his contract was mostly incentive. "Being injured, if you don't play, you don't get paid. If I was able to walk out on that field, I was gonna play," he says. "Had I known about that stuff early on in my career, I probably would have chosen a different career. I always wanted to be a baseball player anyway."

Even with his fame and ability to make a great living thanks to football, McMahon says knowing what he knows now and what he went through physically, he wouldn't do it again. In fact, he wasn't joking about perusing baseball.

"I went to college I played both sports, I would have stuck to that. That was my first love was baseball and had I had a scholarship to play baseball, I probably would have played just baseball. But football paid for everything, it still does. That Super bowl XX team is still as popular as it ever was. Until they win again, we're gonna still make money."

Many pro-football players have lifelong damage from years of play. Some have developed serious trauma-induced diseases, like McMahon's former teammate Dave Duerson, who killed himself after being diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy. In his final months, Duerson, who was 50, complained to his family of his worsening mental state.

Ray Easterling is another player whose death was ruled as a suicide after suffering from clinical depression resulting from dementia.

"Andre Waters…I played with. Played with Reggie White, he didn't kill himself but he died young," McMahon remembers. "This sports takes a big toll on your body and the brain."

Despite losing some close friends to concussion-related illnesses and suffering from early stages of dementia himself, McMahon says he's never considered taking his own life.

"I have too much fun every day. My kid, my youngest son is 21, my oldest is 29, I'd love to see them grow up and have a family of their own. I told them "not too quickly" I don't want to be a grandpa yet, but you know...those thoughts do not enter my mind at this time, no."

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