Tackling the subject of football's violence

Despite increasing evidence of long-term health effects of concussions, some young children are encouraged to play tackle football.

CBS News

The names of this year's Super Bowl contenders will be known by the end of today's conference championship games. But the full human impact of all that action may not be known for years. Our Cover Story is reported now by Mo Rocca:

"Football has meant a lot to me," said Tony Dorsett. "It's brought me a lot of notoriety to me. It's recognition. It's made me a lot of money. It's made me a lot of friends. So it's been a great sport."

Back in the 1970s and '80s, when he was Dallas Cowboys running back number 33, Dorsett was unstoppable. His record-breaking 99-yard touchdown run in 1983 is one of most famous plays in NFL history.

A Hall of Famer, Dorsett is one of only nine players to win both college football's Heisman Trophy and a Super Bowl ring. He and the Cowboys were superstars.

"You guys were kings," said Rocca. "Royalty."

"Emperors! We ruled this city," Dorsett laughed.

But for all his fame and fortune, Tony Dorsett has paid a price. For one, "Memory, man. Places that I go to on a regular basis all of sudden I'm just wondering, 'How do I get there?' Taking my kids to school and picking them up and, 'Where do I pick 'em up?'"

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Correspondent Mo Rocca with former Dallas Cowboys running back Tony Dorsett.
CBS News

He also says he became short-tempered with his wife and four children.

So in 2013 Dorsett had his brain scanned at UCLA Medical Center. The diagnosis, Dorsett said, was CTE.

The scans showed signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease believed to be caused by concussions.

Last year, researchers at Boston University confirmed CTE in the brains of 87 out of 91 deceased former NFL players. Hall of Famers Junior Seau (who shot and killed himself in 2012), and the late, great Frank Gifford both had it, too.

Rocca asked Dorsett, "Are you convinced that the CTE is the result of your career in football?"

"Are you serious?" he laughed.

"I gotta ask."

"You can't be serious. Am I serious? What else would it be from? What else would it be from? Am I serious? Excuse my French, H-E-L-L, yes, I'm serious!"

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Cowboys running back Tony Dorsett.
CBS News

The 61-year-old says violent hits from more than 20 years of playing football have left him in the fight of his life -- hits like one in 1984 against the Philadelphia Eagles (left).

"What it feels like is, there's no feeling, because when it happens you're knocked unconscious," Dorsett said. "I kind of got blindsided, so to speak, you know? The hit was, it was vicious! It was violent."

"When you were playing in high school and in college, did people even talk about concussions?" Rocca asked.

"Absolutely not. No. No, nobody talked about concussions. And then if they did, then it's like, 'Shake it off and get back out there.'"

That's just what six-year-old M.J. Kenner did. He plays for San Antonio's Tri-County Titans. After undergoing a concussion test from coaches, he got right back in the game.

"Once they looked at you and made sure you were okay, you were ready to go back in?" Rocca asked.

"Yes," replied M.J.

"And if you weren't, would you say so?"

"Yes."

Kenner's Mom, Chevonne, said she is not worried. "He's a tough kid, and he's coached well. You know, kids get hurt. I mean, kids can get hurt anywhere."