Alicia Duerson, the ex-wife of Dave Duerson, and daughter Taylor (left) attend the announcement at the Boston University center that studies brain injuries, where they find out that Dave Duerson had brain damage when he committed suicide in February. | AP
Updated: May 23, 2011 4:03PM
RICHMOND, Ind.—The ex-wife who Dave Duerson left behind has come to this town, and other towns, to spread the word. Can’t be easy. What is there to say, when strangers wonder why the man she still loved put a shotgun to his chest?
This is a thousand miles from home in Houston. You wonder where Alicia Duerson will go to be heard, and relive any pain upon request. “Wherever,” she answers, after a panel discussion on chronic traumatic encephalopathy, three words that now make the NFL shudder.
She wants everyone’s attention. She wants football players and families to understand, and the league to get serious about helping the poor souls out there who face CTE now, or will later. That way, maybe other children won’t ever go through what her four just did.
“This is the tip of the iceberg of what is to come,” she says, and she might as well have meant Dave Duerson’s funeral. The lockout combatants can bicker over finances all they want, but with the CTE victims stacking up, this is the issue that ought to have both sides riveted.
And she wants the world to know how the awful last chapter of her ex-husband’s life just keeps getting worse.
She will tell you of the night Dave shoved her in South Bend, in a fit of rage, as an unseen thief robbed his mental reason. “That wasn’t Dave. He wasn’t that kind of man,” she says. “But I didn’t understand.”
She will tell you of the divorce that followed in 2008 after more than two decades of marriage. “The worst day of my life,” she says, or at least until the past 17th of February. “I loved Dave. I still love him. We were together since we were 19 years old.”
She will tell you about his business failures and money troubles. But she will tell you that is not what drove him to suicide, no matter what the stories implied later. “There were articles,” she says, “that said he was cowardly.”
Now we understand why Duerson pulled the trigger before dawn on Feb. 17. The doctors at Boston University made it official, declaring CTE — a brain ailment of depression and impaired reasoning, likely born from too many concussions — as the monster that took over Duerson’s life.
He suspected as much, which is why the gun barrel was pointed at his chest and not his head, preserving the brain for study. A few moments earlier, at 3:52 a.m., he had sent Alicia a last text of love.
What does she do now? Send her own messages.
She will tell you her reaction when the Boston report came back. “The first thing (doctors) noticed was how small his brain was. Dave was a big man. His brain had started dying 10 years ago.
“It was bittersweet. Dave was right, he did have CTE. But he’s still dead.”
She will tell you of the days that should have been warnings, if only she had understood what they were up against. And how those missed chances haunt her now and always will.
“He’s a different person and you don’t know why. The man I knew was not there anymore,” she says. “If I knew, I would have helped him.”
And she will tell you of the bankruptcy proceedings in Florida that go on even now, the product of Dave Duerson’s business downfall. His life is over, but legalities have little tact and less heart, turning tragedy into a garage sale.
“It’s heartbreaking that I’m losing everything,” she says. “His Walter Payton man-of-the-year award will be auctioned off. I have the two Super Bowl rings (from the 1985 Bears and ‘90 Giants), but I know it’s only a matter of time before they confiscate those. My children aren’t going to have anything but a picture.”
She will tell you that her most enduring emotion has nothing to do with doctors or lawyers. Just life, and death. “It was a tragic ending to a beautiful love story,” she says. “It’s like me and the kids have been cheated out of our happily ever after.”
Alicia will tell you all that because she does not want other Dave Duersons. But she, and lots of other people, fear there will be.