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VIKINGS: Former linebacker standout Fred McNeill dealing with early-onset dementia

ST. PAUL Fred McNeill was a standout linebacker for the Minnesota Vikings for 12 seasons (1974-85). He and his wife Tia have been married since 1983. Tia said she has noticed changes in her husband's memory. "People who were in our wedding that h...

Fred McNeill
Former Minnesota Vikings standout Fred McNeill. (Photo: www.vikings.com)

ST. PAUL

Fred McNeill was a standout linebacker for the Minnesota Vikings for 12 seasons (1974-85). He and his wife Tia have been married since 1983. Tia said she has noticed changes in her husband's memory.

"People who were in our wedding that he doesn't know," she said.

Tia said Fred, 59, was diagnosed with early-onset dementia in late 2009. McNeill, who became a lawyer after his playing days, has filed a workers' compensation case against the Vikings through a California law firm.

Tia said he voluntarily suspended his attorney license in California because he no longer can practice, allegedly because of repeated head trauma from playing professional football. When he was practicing law, McNeill's specialty was workers' comp.

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"He's doing OK," Tia said Sunday night from Los Angeles, where she and Fred, a former star at UCLA and a Vikings first-round draft pick, reside. "It's not like he's going after the Vikings per se. Believe me, Fred has no angst against the Vikings. There's no anger there. We're still Vikings fans."

Tia said her husband primarily wants to make sure future medical costs for his condition are covered. McNeill is on Social Security disability. Tia said he was tested about four weeks ago at UCLA, and they are awaiting results.

"They've only been able to test players postmortem like Mike Webster (former Pittsburgh Steeler who died at age 50 in 2002) and Terry Long (former Steeler who died at 45 in 2005) to be able to confirm that they had chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which is what happens to the brain," she said. "Fred's test is the first ever (on a living person) where they will be able to actually give a diagnosis with CTE, where the neuro pathways become blocked because of head trauma.

"I've learned way more (about this) than I've ever wanted to. This is a new test that was developed. Everyone else has been postmortem, like Dave Duerson (former Chicago Bear who died at 50 in February), whose brain was donated (for study). They've always been able to confirm it on someone who has passed on, which is very sad.

"The good news is, if they can determine it on someone alive, they hopefully can develop something to help combat it. That's my hope."

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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