Gale Sayers, one of the greatest running backs in the history of the NFL, has died at the age of 77.
The Chicago Sun-Times and ESPN report that Sayers’ transition comes after he was diagnosed with dementia in 2012.
In 1977, the Chicago Bears legend was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame after accumulating 56 touchdowns and almost 5,000 rushing yards in a career cut short by injuries. In seven seasons, he was named to the All-Pro team five times and led the league in rushing twice before becoming the youngest Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee ever at 34 years old.
“The NFL family lost a true friend today with the passing of Gale Sayers. Gale was one of the finest men in NFL history and one of the game’s most exciting players,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. “Gale was an electrifying and elusive runner who thrilled fans every time he touched the ball. He earned his place as a first-ballot Hall of Famer. We will also forever remember Gale for his inspiration and kindness. Gale’s quiet unassuming demeanor belied his determination, competitiveness and compassion.”
Despite hanging up his cleats in 1971, the “Kansas Comet” still holds the NFL record for touchdowns by a rookie (22) and career kickoff return average (30.6). He’s also still tied for the NFL record for touchdowns in a game (six) and holds Bears franchise records for touchdowns in a season (22), in a game (six), all-purpose yards in a season (2,440) and several others.
As news of his passing began to circulate, friends and fans of the legendary running back took to Twitter to offer their condolences.
Dave Zirin, sports editor at The Nation, also made it a point to remind mourners that Sayers’ “final major gesture” as a college student was participating in a sit-in at the University of Kansas.
After retiring from football, Sayers returned to school at Kansas to earn both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees before serving as the athletic director at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale from 1976-81. In the time before his death, the NFL legend occupied himself with business interests and philanthropic efforts.
“It was a great honor to play in the National Football League, and I consider myself very lucky to have played here in Chicago for you, the great Chicago Bear fans,” Sayers said at his jersey retirement ceremony in 1994.
Our thoughts are with his family.