Spring 2021 Magazine

Former NFL sack king Mark Gastineau finds strength in his faith as he fights against cancer

In the 1980s, Mark Gastineau was one of the NFL’s biggest personalities — a hard-partying, mink coat-wearing, sack-celebrating defensive lineman who terrorized opposing quarterbacks. Today, Gastineau’s body is riddled by dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and most recently, stage 3 colon cancer. For the latest ailment, Gastineau told Sports Spectrum that he began radiation treatment on Tuesday.

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After going through difficult times in his life following his football career, and in many ways viewing football as his God, Gastineau has found that his faith in the Lord is now what he lives for.

“Mark realizes — like all of us — that we’re closer to the end than the beginning,” former teammate Marty Lyons recently told ESPN. “He’s been humbled and he’s thankful. Maybe he didn’t say ‘thank you’ to enough people along the way, but it’s not too late. He has a long battle in front of him, but the one thing he has now that he didn’t have before is his faith.”

Gastineau, who played each of his 10 seasons with the New York Jets, was the sack king of football before sacks became an official statistic in 1982. He held the record for sacks in a season (22 in ’84) for the greater part of two decades, until Michael Strahan broke it in 2001-02 with 21.5.

Today, the cost for his medical bills have skyrocketed and he’s asking for help and assistance. He’s asking for prayers for him and his family but also to consider helping him in his battle. A GoFundMe has been established to help offset the costs of the radiation and chemotherapy.

“God gave Mark Gastineau His Son Jesus,” Gastineau told ESPN in a 2002 interview. “And you know what? He died on the cross and I’m forgiven for everything. I could not go on if it wasn’t for that. I’m so thankful for Jesus Christ in my life, that He is my Savior and He saved my life, because of the fact that I would beat myself up — I’d beat myself up every day.”

In his later years Gastineau, once a mainstay of the television talk show circuit, has become more reluctant to give interviews, politely declining to draw attention to himself. When he is interviewed, he uses the platform to draw attention to the importance of colon cancer screenings and his faith. Gastineau has also become yet another tragic tale of what football does to a person’s body. In 2018, Gastineau broke down in sobs while describing to Pete McCarthy’s radio show, WOR Sports Zone, the toll the NFL took on his health.

“I thank God, I thank God I have the Lord in my life because I tell you Pete, it’s not good,” Gastineau said. “There will be days I’ll get up and I’m good but I’ll tell you Pete, and my wife will tell you, she helps me get out of bed, she’ll help me remember names. The [NFL’s treatment of its former players] is wrong. They are wrong. I’m not telling them to give me zillions of dollars. I don’t want zillions of dollars. I want to be treated with respect. I want the NFL to treat people right.

“I used to think I was all that, but I’ll tell you Pete, I was nothing.”

Join us in praying for Mark and his wife, Jo Ann, as they go through this fight together.

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