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Ex-wife of late Steeler Justin Strzelczyk irked by player's comments

Ben Schmitt
| Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2017, 12:09 p.m.
Keana McMahon of McCandless holds a football helmet that belonged to her former husband, Pittsburgh Steelers lineman Justin Strzelczyk. Strzelczyk suffered brain trauma from years of hits to the head on the field.
Stephanie Strasburg | Trib Total Media
Keana McMahon of McCandless holds a football helmet that belonged to her former husband, Pittsburgh Steelers lineman Justin Strzelczyk. Strzelczyk suffered brain trauma from years of hits to the head on the field.
Former Steelers offensive lineman Justin Strzelczyk on the sidelines during their game against the Baltimore Ravens on September 8, 1996.
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Former Steelers offensive lineman Justin Strzelczyk on the sidelines during their game against the Baltimore Ravens on September 8, 1996.
Former Steelers offensive lineman Justin Strzelczyk
James M. Kubus | Trib Total Media
Former Steelers offensive lineman Justin Strzelczyk

The former wife of late Pittsburgh Steelers offensive lineman Justin Strzelczyk took offense to comments New York Jets rookie Jamal Adams made about the degenerative brain disease known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

When asked about player-safety rules and CTE during a Jets fan forum Monday, Adams said , “Literally, if I had the perfect place to die, I'd die on the field,” according to ESPN and the New York Daily News.

Keana McMahon of McCandless, who was married to Strzelcyzk for eight years, did not appreciate the comments.

“I don't even know what to say. This guy doesn't know what's coming down the pipeline,” McMahon told the Daily News. “He has no idea what dealing with someone who has CTE is like.”

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who was sitting next to Adams, said that the rookie's comments were more about his affinity for the game, according to the Daily News.

“I think what he was really making the point of is how much he loved the game and how passionate he is about the game,” Goodell told reporters. “It's just something that means a great deal to him. I get the emotion of that.”

Strzelczyk died Sept. 30, 2004, after his pickup collided with a tanker truck in Herkimer, N.Y., following a 40-mile chase by police on the New York Thruway during morning rush hour.

“At the time it appears — and not being a psychiatrist — from witness accounts that Justin Strzelczyk suffered some sort of emotional breakdown,” New York State Police investigator James Hunt said at the time. “Whether it was drug- or alcohol-induced or something psychological related to a pre-existing illness or both, I don't know. All of a sudden, he snapped.”

Years later, Dr. Bennet Omalu, a forensic pathologist in Pittsburgh, studied Strzelczyk's brain. Omalu determined that the former offensive lineman suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, a degenerative brain disease resulting from repeated blows to the head. He was one of the first National Football League players to be diagnosed.

Last week, findings in the Journal of the American Medical Association revealed that examinations of nearly 90 percent of the brains of 202 deceased football players showed varying degrees of CTE. Of those, 111 brains came from former NFL players, and 110 of those brains contained CTE. Families donated the brains for research.

“I bet my kids would want their father here,” McMahon told the Daily News. “I know in my heart of hearts that Justin would have wanted to see his daughter get married someday or see his son graduate from college, not dying on a football field.”

Ben Schmitt is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7991, bschmitt@tribweb.com or via Twitter at @Bencschmitt.

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