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*Gale Sayers was born on this date in 1943. He was a Black collegiate and professional football player and businessman.
Gale Eugene Sayers was born to Roger Earl Sayers and Bernice Ross in Wichita, Kansas, and raised in Omaha, Nebraska. His father was a mechanic for Goodyear, farmed, and worked for auto dealerships. Sayers' younger brother, Ron, later played running back for the San Diego Chargers of the American Football League. Roger, his older brother, was a decorated college track and field athlete.
He graduated from Omaha Central High School, where he starred in football and track and field. A fine all-around track athlete, he set a state long jump record of 24 ft 101⁄2 in (7.58m) as a senior in 1961. Nicknamed the "Kansas Comet", Sayers played college football for the University of Kansas, where he compiled 4,020 all-purpose yards over three seasons and was twice recognized as a consensus All-American.
In Sayers' rookie National Football League (NFL) season, he set a league record by scoring 22 touchdowns including a record-tying six in one game and gained 2,272 all-purpose yards en route to being named the NFL's Rookie of the Year. He continued this production through his first five seasons, earning four Pro Bowl appearances and five first-team All-Pro selections. A right knee injury forced Sayers to miss the final five games of the 1968 season, but he returned in 1969 to lead the NFL in rushing yards and be named the NFL Comeback Player of the Year. An injury to his left knee in the 1970 preseason as well as subsequent injuries kept him sidelined for most of his final two seasons.
His friendship with Bears teammate Brian Piccolo, who died of cancer in 1970, inspired Sayers to write his autobiography, I Am Third, which in turn was the basis for the 1971 made-for-TV movie Brian's Song.
Sayers was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1977 at age 34 and remains the youngest person to have received the honor. He was named to the NFL's 75th Anniversary Team as a halfback and kick returner, the only player to occupy two positions on the team. In 2019, he was named to the NFL 100th Anniversary All-Time Team. For his achievements in college, Sayers was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame the same year. His jersey number is retired by both the Bears and the University of Kansas. Following his NFL career, Sayers began a career in sports administration and business, and served as the athletic director of Southern Illinois University from 1976 to 1981.
In 1984, Sayers founded Crest Computer Supply Company in the Chicago area. Under Sayers' leadership, this company experienced consistent growth and was renamed Sayers 40, Inc. He was chairman of Sayers 40, Inc., the aforementioned technology consulting and implementation firm serving Fortune 1000 companies nationally with offices in Vernon Hills, Illinois, Walpole, Massachusetts, Clearwater, Florida, and Atlanta.
Sayers, along with his wife Ardythe, were also active philanthropists in Chicago. He supported the Cradle Foundation an adoption organization in Evanston, Illinois, and founded the Gale Sayers Center in the Austin neighborhood of Chicago. The Gale Sayers Center is an after-school program for children ages 8–12 from Chicago's west side and focuses on leadership development, tutoring, and mentoring. In 2009, Sayers joined the University of Kansas Athletic Department staff as Director of Fundraising for Special Projects.
In September 2013, Sayers reportedly sued the NFL, claiming the league negligently handled his repeated head injuries during his career. The lawsuit claimed Sayers suffered headaches and short-term memory loss since retirement. It stated he was sometimes sent back into games after suffering concussions, and that the league did not do enough to protect him. The case was withdrawn after Sayers initially claimed it was done so because the case was filed without his permission, but was actually withdrawn due to other litigation that Sayers was involved in at the time. Sayers filed a new lawsuit in January 2014 along with six other former players.
Sayers' record of 22 touchdowns in a season was broken by O. J. Simpson in 1975, who scored 23; his 22 touchdowns remain a rookie record as of 2017. Sayers remains the most recent player to score at least six touchdowns in a game. His career kickoff return average of 30.56 yards is an NFL record for players with at least 75 attempts and he is one of several players to have scored two return touchdowns in a game. He is tied with four other players for the second most career kickoff returns touchdowns, with six.
Sayers' rookie record of 2,272 all-purpose yards was broken in 1988 by Tim Brown, who gained 2,317 yards through 16 games, which was two more games than Sayers set the record in. His single-season all-purpose yards record of 2,440 set in 1966 was broken in 1974 by Mack Herron, who surpassed it by four yards.
In March 2017, Sayers' wife, Ardythe, revealed that he had been diagnosed with dementia four years prior. She stated that a Mayo Clinic doctor confirmed it was likely caused by his football career. "It wasn't so much getting hit in the head," she said. "It's just the shaking of the brain when they took him down with the force, they play the game in." While he remained physically healthy, the disease had an adverse effect on his mental health and memory in particular, making simple tasks such as signing his own name difficult. After suffering from dementia for several years, Gale Sayers died on September 23, 2020.