PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – While watching the Super Bowl, there will be thousands of young boys dreaming of lacing up their cleats, putting on the shoulder pads and snapping the chin strap on their helmet.
But, Keana McMahon knows the lure of wearing that helmet can come with a high cost.
"It gives you a license to kill basically, and that's the problem," she said.
McMahon lived it. She was married to former Steelers offensive tackle Justin Strzelczyk. He died in a fiery crash on a New York Interstate in 2004 at the age of 36.
There were no drugs or alcohol in his system, but he led police on a high-speed chase going the wrong way on the highway. His pickup truck slammed into an oncoming tractor-trailer going 90 miles per hour and burst into flames.
His body was found 80 yards from the wrecked truck.
Strzelczyk's saga is part of the storyline in the Hollywood film "Concussion" starring Will Smith. Since the release of the film, McMahon says she has heard from the wives of many NFL Players, past and present.
The most recent call came this week.
"She was telling me her story for two hours on the phone," McMahon paused for a moment, then continued. "I just -- it was my life. And I'm listening to this and I'm, I'm listening to my life. You know? It's emotionally exhausting."
WEB EXTRA VIDEO:
- Uncut Interview: Keana McMahon (Pt. 1)
- Uncut Interview: Keana McMahon (Pt. 2)
- Uncut Interview: Keana McMahon (Pt. 3)
- Uncut Interview: Keana McMahon (Pt. 4)
Strzelczyk is just one of several Steelers mentioned in the film who dealt with CTE or Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. His ex-wife says she can no longer watch football because she knows too many players and coaches who are still in the game.
"To know and watch people that people I love that are so close to me might have the same problems that I had. That's why it's so hard for me," McMahon said.
Keana is now involved in a group called Sisters in Sports. They are wives and mothers of professional athletes who are sometimes faced with these very hard subjects. The group was founded by Karen Moyer, the wife of long-time MLB pitcher Jamie Moyer.
"There's no hope to give then and that's a hard thing to say to somebody. There's no hope. He will probably end up dead and you need to protect yourself is all I can say," McMahon said.
McMahon said she can no longer watch the game her ex-husband loved, but she is adamant she is not anti-football.
"I am anti-tackle football before the age of at least 14. I think it's really important that these kids don't put the helmet on. The helmet gives you such a false sense of security," she said. "Really, the guys who wore the leather helmets decades ago probably didn't have CTE because they weren't hitting their heads."
If there was one thing she could change about the "Concussion" movie, it might be the name.
"What people don't understand is you don't have to have a concussion to have CTE, and that's very important," McMahon said.
She said Strzelczyk was never diagnosed with a concussion during his playing career.
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