Another former NFL player will soon have his brain donated in the ongoing pursuit of greater knowledge about chronic traumatic encephalopathy.
The latest is former Chiefs safety Ceasar Belser, who played for the team from 1968 to 1971 and was a member of the 1969 Super Bowl champions. Belser died over the weekend from lung cancer, according to his son, Jason Belser — himself an 11-year NFL veteran and former Chief — and daughter, Cecilia Belser-Patton.
Both said that in light of neurological issues that popped in the latter years of Caesar’s life, the family has decided to donate his brain to the studies of the University of Texas Southwestern and Dr. Bennet Omalu, the physician who discovered CTE and has dedicated his life to researching the degenerative brain condition.
“After a discussion with his wife and our family, we just thought it was something that needed to be done,” said Jason, who has already said his own brain will be donated for study when he dies. “I just wouldn’t be able to sleep with myself knowing that we didn’t give him every opportunity to understand what was ailing him and the impact (it had on) him in his later days.”
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Cecilia agreed, noting that the family agrees with Dr. Omalu’s work.
“I think it is our commitment to uphold players’ dignity and their worth beyond the football field,” she said. “We want to ensure their health, care and who they are as men, as people, supersedes who they are as athletes. Whatever we can do to help Dr. Omalu, we’re planning on doing as a family.”
Jason says he first took his father to the Mayo Clinic in February 2015 to have an evaluation done through the NFL Players Trust, which was created in 2013 to provide an ecosystem of support for former players, with an emphasis on overall health and successful transition from professional football.
Jason said Caesar was diagnosed with cognitive impairment and brain trauma, and eventually dementia.
“He really complained of memory loss, I would say, the last four years,” Jason said.
When Jason worked with the players’ association — he is a former senior director of player services and development — Caesar used to accompany him during his meetings with Cowboys players whenever he was in town. Jason knew something was wrong a few years back when Caesar couldn’t find his way to the facility during one visit.
“He got kind of confused on how to get there, and that was, I think, my first realization that there might be something there,” Jason said.
The reality that Jason’s brain could one day do the same to him is the reason Jason also wants his donated to science.
“You’ve got to know,” Jason said. “You’ve got to know the return on investment. Is it worth it or is it not? I have a son who, if he decides to play, I want him to have as much information as humanly possible to make a decision.”
After Caesar played his final NFL season with the San Francisco 49ers in 1974, Jason says Caesar continued to work at Southwestern Bell Yellow Pages in Kansas City — he started out in sales and worked his way up to management. He moved to St. Louis in 1983, and then the Dallas-Fort Worth area in 1987.
“He was really a pioneer,” Jason said. “I would say he’s probably one of the first African-Americans to be in management at Southwestern Bell Yellow Pages.”
Cecilia wants people to remember their father for who he was as a person, not just as a football player. Caesar’s body will be laid to rest next weekend in Montgomery, Ala., his childhood home.
“Daddy was an extraordinary person in a lot of ways,” she said. “He was an outstanding speaker, he loved politics … he was a well-rounded, renaissance person. I want him to be remembered for that, as well as what he did on football field.”