Sports Opinion & Analysis

NFL & Brain Trauma: Head Against the Wall

In NFL on January 23, 2013 at 7:14 am

By Chris Carosi

Junior Seau had CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), a brain disease associated with repeated head trauma. It most often occurs in boxers and it wasn’t until about seven years ago (!) it began to be seriously considered to be suffered by NFL players. This report contradicts the original autopsy conducted last year, which saw no physical signs of damage.

As reported on this very site, the kind of depression and other disorders arising in men after retirement from CTE is quite frightening. Suicide and other strange symptoms like personality changes and paranoia (those associated with schizophrenia) have occurred in numerous cases. There are many tragic examples to choose from without too much Google skills.

Junior Seau passed away in May of last year.

The Seau family worked with the National Institutes of Health in Washington state to deliver a comprehensive examination on Junior’s brain. The study confirmed evidence of proteins (known as “tau”) which tangle neurological strands and “scarring” consistent with repeated head trauma. All of this, no doubt, a direct result of a long career in the NFL.

It’s clear that the NFL is in support of treating those with CTE. Obviously. But their recent decisions like throwing out lawsuits filed by hundreds of former players for proper neurological healthcare (players in retirement) is quite gruff. The NFL claims that the CBA reached as recently as last off-season has these healthcare issues covered, but other reports that seem to show that the NFL tries to cover up the link between head trauma and the development of Alzheimer’s, CTE, and other horrific life-destroying ailments is rather spooky.

Roger Goodell’s tenure will always be looked at as the beginning of this investigation into head trauma and the NFL.

This issue lies precisely at the core of being a supporter of these athletes. Is the NFL in support of helping players with these problems? Yes, as far as they can while supporting this violent tradition (not to mention keeping a brand). The question is why aren’t they working to prevent it?

As recent studies show, the definition of a concussion is not just the bruising of the brain if it bumps the skull. It can also occur over the course of slight head traumas (those that accrue over the course of an NFL career probably). This has me thinking that there is not a cure for this. There just isn’t. The only way to prevent it is to not play football at all.

This is the dilemma that keeps Roger Goodell awake at night. Football = money. Big money. Like enormous skyscrapers of money that can’t be counted. Money that is waiting on the stoop when you open the front door in the morning. And of course Mr. Goodell is under constant pressure from the board of White Balding Grey Hairs to keep the money rolling. That is his job: to be an ambassador of the game and keep the game as pure as possible without showing the cracks, all this while progressing the game.

The NFL’s revenue structure and TV deals ensure that every Super Bowl is worth more money than the one previous.

It’s true that even with all this education and warnings and obvious correlation between football and suicide or at least football and mental health trouble, some (or most) men will play regardless. And of course this is their right as adults and citizens and all that. It’s a crazy, crazy thing to think about.

Then, if you consider how the college game works, breeding specimen after specimen of athletes from low-income households going to the professional with literally nothing to fall back on, then we have a big problem here: you can’t stop it. There’s too much at play to pull the plug on this elaborate machine. The high-road solution would be to up the education programs for college athletes to ensure at least a day-job if/when an NFL career falls through–but we all know how much colleges care about that as opposed to their football programs being on TV a lot. Of course, Certainly not every college athlete is inept at life, but it’s worth thinking about.

So this is the part that gets even darker. The conclusion here is that I fear it will keep going. The NFL will remain, and this head trauma thing will continue unless there’ s a drastic change (i.e. removing helmets) or television becomes obsolete and the NFL’s infinite money chain just peters out. After a while, the sound of many people “banging their heads against the wall” is akin to applause after all.

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