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Famous Athletes Who Have Epilepsy

There are many athletes who have overcome or gone on to surpass their epilepsy condition. They have strived, succeeded and provide an inspiration to us all. Along with some athletes’ outstanding commitment to epilepsy — advocating, teaching and supporting epilepsy.

Grover Cleveland Alexander — A Major League Baseball pitcher who tried to hide his epilepsy with alcohol, which was at the time was considered a more socially acceptable problem. Ty Cobb said he “suffered hell on the field.”

Tiki Barber (Ronde Barber) — A retired American football running back who played for the New York Giants for ten seasons. Barber retired from the NFL at the end of the 2006 NFL postseason as the New York Giants all-time rushing and reception leader. Barber was inducted into the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame in 2011.

Marion Clignet — Olympic medal winning cyclist. This French-American athlete won 6 world titles, 2 Olympic silver medals, over 170 other international and national races, and beat the 3 km pursuit cycling record.

Clignet was diagnosed with epilepsy in 1986 when she was 22. She believes that her struggles with epilepsy equipped her with those winning qualities, and turned her into an Olympic medalist.

In fact, it was when she lost her driver’s license because of her seizures that she took up bicycling just as a means of transportation!

Alan Faneca — All-Star football player who won a Super Bowl title. A notable athlete who was a former American college and professional football player who was a guard in the National Football League (NFL) for thirteen seasons. He played professionally for the Pittsburgh Steelers, New York Jets, and Arizona Cardinals.

Faneca retired in May 2011, ending his distinguished career with nine Pro Bowl awards, nine All-Pro awards, and one Super Bowl title. He’s now a spokesman for the Epilepsy Foundation, spreading awareness and teaching people first aid for seizures.

Dai Greene — Olympic athlete, and British track and field hurdler, he specializes in the 400 meters hurdles event. Greene is the current European, Commonwealth and World Champion. He has epilepsy, but he hasn’t had a seizure in years.

Tony Greig — A former cricketer and commentator who is involved with Epilepsy Action Australia, he had his first seizure, aged 14, during a tennis game but has successfully controlled his epilepsy with medication.

Chanda Gunn — Ice hockey goalie for the 2006 US Olympic team. Despite her challenges with epilepsy, Chanda has been able to establish herself as one of the most prolific hockey players in the US.

She also is a spokesperson for the Epilepsy Therapy Project run by Here, she promotes epilepsy awareness and the need for epilepsy research.
David Gus (Buddy Bell) — Former third baseman and manager in Major League Baseball. After an 18-year career with four teams, most notably the Cleveland Indians and Texas Rangers, he managed the Detroit Tigers, Colorado Rockies and Kansas City Royals for three seasons each.

He is the son of outfielder Gus Bell and the father of third basemen David and Mike. He is currently vice president and assistant general manager for the Chicago White Sox.

Florence Griffith Joyner (FloJo) — World record-setting sprinter. American track and field athlete described as the “fastest woman of all time.” FloJo” set world records at the 1988 Olympics for the 100 and 200 metre runs. She also won a total of three gold medals and two silver medals during the 1984 and 1988 Olympics. Amazingly enough, these still stand and have yet to be seriously challenged.

She co-chaired the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports and developed seizures in her thirties, possibly due to a cavernous angioma that was discovered on her autopsy. She died from asphyxiation after a grand mal seizure while asleep.

Former president Bill Clinton stated, “We were dazzled by her speed, humbled by her talent, and captivated by her style.”

Hal Lanier — Major league baseball player and manager. He developed epilepsy after a severe beaning.

Former infielder, coach and manager in Major League Baseball who was named the first manager in the history of the Ottawa Champions Baseball Club of the independent Can-Am League. From 1964 through 1973, Lanier played for the San Francisco Giants (1964-71) and New York Yankees (1972-73). He is the son of Max Lanier, a former MLB All-Star pitcher.

Tony Lazzeri — Major League Baseball figure who played second baseman during the 1920s and 1930s, predominantly with the New York Yankees of Major League Baseball.

He was part of the famed “Murderers’ Row” Yankee batting lineup of the late 1920s (most notably the legendary 1927 team), along with Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Bob Meusel.

Lazzeri was also the first person to hit two grand slams in one game in 1936 vs. Athletics. He is said to have probably died after seizure that occurred when he was alone at home. Lazzeri was posthumously inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 1991.

Wally Lewis — One of Australia’s greatest rugby league players, national team captain 1984-89. After retirement from the sport, he became a television sports presenter, but became disoriented during a live-to-air broadcast in late 2006. Medical tests revealed that he had epilepsy.

Terry Marsh — English former professional boxer who was an undefeated world champion in the light welterweight division.
Marsh was a three-time ABA senior amateur champion who went on to become the British, European and IBF light welterweight world champion as a professional. He was the first European boxer ever to retire as an undefeated World Champion.

Maggie McEleny — Four times British paralympic swimmer, winning 3 gold, 5 silver and 7 bronze medals. McEleny has paraplegia and had epilepsy. In 2000, she was made an MBE and awarded a Golden Jubilee Award by the British Epilepsy Association.

Samari Rolle — Retired American football cornerback. He was drafted by the Tennessee Oilers in the second round of the 1998 NFL Draft. Rolle has also played for the Baltimore Ravens. He was selected to the Pro Bowl in 2000.

Mike Simmel — (Mighty Mike) of the Harlem Wizards. Since 2001 Mike has been a member of the famous Harlem Wizards basketball team thrilling people all over the world with the show name “Mighty Mike.” The aim of the team is to entertain the crowd by using a variety of basketball tricks and comedy.
Mike is also a national spokesperson for various epilepsy awareness campaigns, speaking at Epilepsy Foundation events and camps for children with special needs.

He has stated, “Epilepsy is a condition just like anything else. In my experiences I have found that if you just get out and be active, you can truly feel good about yourself. Don’t spend your life on the sidelines!”

In September 2011, a children’s book based upon his life entitled “Mighty Mike Bounces Back” was published. For more information about this book check out his website at

Jason Snelling — Former Atlanta Falcons running back, and another important supporter of the Epilepsy Foundation. He was diagnosed with epilepsy in college. With treatment, he was able to continue his football career and become a successful professional athlete.

Today, Snelling works with the Epilepsy Foundation to bring awareness to the condition. He reaches out to others by speaking out about his own experiences. He also works with the Foundation’s African American initiative, “Know the Difference”.

Greg Walker — a former power-hitting first baseman in Major League Baseball. He is the former hitting coach of the Chicago White Sox, the team for which he played all but the last 14 games of his career, until leaving the White Sox to become the hitting coach for the Atlanta Braves, a position he held from 2012 until 2014.

He collapsed on field with a tonic-clonic seizure. He had a further seizure in the hospital that night and took anticonvulsant medication for the next two years.

    About the author
    Phylis Feiner Johnson

    Phylis Feiner Johnson

    I've been a professional copywriter for over 35 years. I've also had epilepsy for decades. My mission is advocacy; to increase education, awareness and funding for epilepsy research. Together, we can make a huge difference. If not changing the world, at least helping each other, with wisdom, compassion and sharing.

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