Mel Farr, a former Detroit Lions running back and owner of what was once the largest black-owned dealership group in the U.S., reportedly had Stage 3 chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) when he died in 2015 at age 70.
The condition, caused by repeated trauma to the head, has been a source of controversy in the NFL. A class-action lawsuit on behalf of thousands of former NFL players was settled by the league before a federal judge in 2015. The players charged that the league didn’t respond soon enough to mounting evidence on the long-term dangers associated with concussions suffered during football games.
Farr died Aug. 3, 2015. His family donated his brain and spinal cord to the Boston University School of Medicine, where it was confirmed Farr had Stage 3 CTE, ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” originally reported. CTE can only be confirmed after death. It also was the subject of the 2015 film Concussion, starring Will Smith.
A doctor told ESPN that Farr’s behavioral symptoms, along with memory loss and significant personality change, were consistent with a Stage 3 diagnosis. Additional symptoms of CTE include confusion, impaired judgment, aggression, depression, problems with impulse control and progressive dementia, among others.
Including Farr, of the 96 former NFL players who have died and been tested, 92 had confirmed cases of CTE, a Boston University CTE Center spokeswoman confirmed to Automotive News.
Farr retired from the NFL in 1973 because of knee and shoulder injuries. He rushed for 3,072 yards and scored 26 touchdowns in his 69 career games with the Lions. He also caught 146 passes for 1,374 yards to score10 additional touchdowns.
Then in 1975, Farr bought his first Ford dealership in suburban Detroit. He would go on to own 11 dealerships and build Mel Farr Automotive Group, the largest black-owned dealership in the nation.
He was known around town as “Mel Farr, Superstar,” a character he created for his TV commercials.
In 1998, his biggest year, Farr generated $568.4 million in total revenue and sold 9,297 new vehicles through his 13 franchises. Mel Farr Automotive Group was the first black-owned dealership group to hit the $500 million mark.
However, Farr started running into financial and legal trouble in the early 2000s and began selling his dealerships. By 2003, he had completely exited the new-car business.
He served as president of the Black Ford and Lincoln Mercury Dealers in 1994 and as chairman of the National Association of Minority Automobile Dealers in 1991 and 1992.