Former NFL veteran William White, who played for the Detroit Lions as a defensive back, died of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) on Thursday night, the Lions announced on Twitter.
The 56-year-old football player was diagnosed with the progressive neurodegenerative disease, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, in 2016. When White heard the news, he accepted his fate calmly with grace, according to The Dispatch. He has been battling the disease ever since.
“When Dr. [Kevin] Weber told me I had ALS, I was like, ‘Oh, OK,’” White said in 2018. “He says, ‘You don’t understand, there is a 100 percent chance you are going to die.’ I told him, ‘Well, everyone who is born, there is a 100 percent chance they’re going to die. And no one is going to live into their thousands.’”
The Detroit Lions posted a message with images of White’s best moments: “We share in the sadness felt today throughout the NFL community following the news of William White’s passing. Drafted by the Lions in the 4th round of the 1988 Draft out of Ohio State, White played 6 seasons in Detroit (1988-1993) & appeared in 95 games (79 starts) for the club.”
In his career, White played 170 games with 132 starts, and 721 tackles with 20 interceptions. He played with the Detroit Lions, Kansas City Chiefs, and Atlanta Falcons throughout his 11-year career in the NFL.
The Lions drafted White in 1988 from Ohio State. He joined the Chiefs in 1994 and entered campaigns with the Falcons in 1997. At the NFC championship between the Falcons and Denver Broncos, White tallied a team-high nine tackles in the Super Bowl, marking the final game of his career.
“I loved William. We shared experiences of joy and sorrow on and off the field,” said Chris Spielman, special assistant to the Lions’ CEO. “He was and always will be my brother. I am forever grateful for the special moment last year when he was able to be by my side during the Pride of the Lions ceremony at Ford Field. I can’t wait to see him again when he will be free from ALS. May God’s peace rest upon his family.”
Former Ohio State quarterback Kirk Herbsterit wrote on Twitter: “When I heard about his diagnosis years ago I was in shock. He fought it like you’d expect, within uncommon valor. Known his family for many years–my thoughts and prays to Niko, their children, and the rest of the White family. So sorry for your loss.”
White is survived by his wife, Nikiol, and children William Jr. Brendon and Brea. He told Eleven Warriors in 2018 that he has no regrets playing football, even if “it may have something to do with it.”
“If I knew I would have got this, I would have still played the game, because I loved it, and smacking people in the mouth was fun to me.” White said while laughing, “I’m not allowed to say that now, but hey, that’s why God made sure I was born in ‘66 instead of ‘86.”