Ex-NFL quarterback Gus Frerotte focuses on brain health monitoring app
Gus Frerotte absorbed some hard hits playing 15 seasons as a quarterback in the NFL.
Fortunately, at 46, he feels pretty healthy when reflecting on former teammates who might not have fared as well.
“I'm fortunate that generally in the quarterback position, you're not taking as many hits to the head as some other positions,” he said.
Frerotte is part of a Pittsburgh-area tech company that developed a smartphone app that uses a series of visual, auditory and dexterity exercises to measure brain performance and cognitive ability.
“We want everybody to be able to understand their own brain health,” said Frerotte, who lives in Oakmont. “People have problems as they age, and the brain is the only organ we don't really understand.”
Frerotte played in the NFL for seven teams, including the Washington Redskins, Detroit Lions, Cincinnati Bengals and Minnesota Vikings. He played football at Ford City High School, from which he graduated in 1989, and went on to the University of Tulsa.
He works at RC21X, based in Coraopolis, as vice president of brain health initiatives. The company developed the app Roberto , named after Pittsburgh Pirates great Roberto Clemente. Clemente's son, Roberto Clemente Jr., is a member of the RC21X advisory board. Twenty-one was Clemente's number.
Users of the app play games to measure memory and neuromotor skills. Over time, the data create a baseline for individual users.
The Roberto app, which launched in February, has about 10,000 downloads in 104 countries.
“It gives players a chance to see their brains and monitor activity every day if they want to,” Frerotte told the Tribune-Review on Monday. “It provides an easy way to look at the most vital organ in your body.”
CEO Clarence Carlos likens the activity to a stress test for the brain.
Carlos, a former West Virginia University football player, began thinking about creating the company after a friend's teenage son suffered a brain injury and died in 2008. RC21X opened in 2013.
Before the Roberto app was revealed, RC21X was launched as a desktop brain performance monitoring tool.
The app's users include more than 650 former NFL players, including NFL Hall of Famers Joe DeLamielleure and Tony Dorsett, Carlos said. However, he does not limit its use to football players. Parents, caregivers, seniors and business owners might be interested in using it.
Carlos said people who use the app twice a week can generate trend data to learn more about individual brain health.
“You're able to collect data on any child or any adult in the world,” he said.
Recent publicity surrounding football players and brain injuries could make the app increasingly relevant.
Frerotte said he agreed with comments last week by Dr. Bennet Omalu , a former Allegheny County deputy coroner, who diagnosed football players with CTE, a degenerative brain disease resulting from repeated blows to the head. Omalu said in interviews last week that CTE is merely one disease in a spectrum of many caused by brain trauma.
“I really think that assessment by Dr. Omalu is right,” Frerotte said. “I've seen a lot of guys with various forms of brain injury.”
Ben Schmitt is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7991, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter at @Bencschmitt.