“Protecting football players today and into the future will be Bill’s lasting legacy”
And through the charity set up to achieve this, Head Safe Football, the commitment made by the family of football player Bill Gates – who died from probable CTE as a result of his career as a footballer – are more resolute than ever to delivering on this.
Bill, a Middlesbrough defender and later businessman and philanthropist, passed away on October 21 – coincidentally on the same day as Sir Bobby Charlton, who also lived with dementia.
Both funerals are being held today, with members of the footballing community standing together to mark two legends of the game – and to pledge their support to changing the future for other players and families by making football a safer sport.
Head Safe Football was established by Bill’s wife, Dr Judith Gates, to raise awareness of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, known as CTE – a neurodegenerative disease which research has shown is caused by repeated head impacts, although can only be definitely diagnosed after death.
Through its campaign Football United vs CTE, Head Safe Football is uniting players, teams and clubs from across the whole football spectrum – from grassroots through to professional level – to help protect their players from the impact of repeated head impacts through education and introducing best practice around safety.
The topic of football-related dementia and CTE, which increasing numbers of former footballers continue to be affected by, is seen by many as the ‘elephant in the room’, a subject football is not keen to discuss – and is the inspiration for Head Safe Football’s logo, an elephant standing on a football.
Dr Gates said she and her family are now, after the loss of their beloved Bill, more determined than ever to make change through Head Safe Football, and to protect future generations from the heartbreak they have faced throughout Bill’s illness.
“Since Bill passed away, we have been absolutely overawed by the warmth and kindness from so many people who knew Bill either personally or through his football, and admired all he achieved – we are truly grateful for that, and are determined to carry forward his legacy, which was so very important to him,” she says.
“When Bill received the devastating diagnosis he had probable CTE, while it was too late for him, he cared passionately about preventing others suffering such an avoidable fate and wanted to make football a safer sport.
“Our promise to him was that we would do everything we can to achieve that – and through Head Safe Football, we are more resolute than ever to deliver on this.
“No other family should go through what we have been through, and by tackling the elephant in the room, we can help eliminate this cruel brain disease from football.”
Dr Gates called for support for the charity’s campaign Football United vs CTE, which brings together clubs and players of all levels in raising awareness of head impacts, educating players, coaches and parents of the dangers and warning signs to look out for, and introducing safer practices across the sport.
“This campaign is for everyone. Football is such an inclusive sport bringing together all ages, genders and levels of ability to create a sport we all love – but we must act together to remove the dangers we know exist, and have been irrefutably proven through research,” says Dr Gates.
“We hope to unite football behind the urgent need to act to prevent further risks to the safety of our loved ones, as well as to those we idolise from the professional game, and create a future without the devastation of CTE.”
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