I recently gave a speech to my toastmasters group centering on the issue of brain damage in NFL players. Now, today, I find that a local foundation will be funding a football program for middle schoolers. Newspaper article. I realize that football is still an accepted sport for boys. I was taken by the irony of the timing – the same week that I did the speech.
revised 6/10/2016, 1pm.
I removed the sentence about encouraging children to take up other sports. Schools and youth leagues are taking responsibility, as are the NCAA and NFL. Prevention of concussion is the goal.
Text for Concussion Speech given 6/7/16
I didn’t cry until they got to Junior Seau. Seau was a 45 year old retired NFL player – a linebacker – who committed suicide by shooting himself in the chest so that his brain could be studied for signs of chronic traumatic encephelothopy – CTE.
This was 2012.
Fellow Toastmasters and Honored Guests
I went to the movie Concussion with an awareness of the issue of brain injury due to repeated blows to the head. Dr. Benet Omalu, the main character in the movie, worked in the pathology department at the University of Pittsburg. He was one of the first people to identify the players’ symptoms as a distinct disease. Omalu was first suspicious when he autopsied retired Pittsburg Steeler Mike Webster, dead at 50 of apparent suicide. Then other Steelers came across his autopsy table. All had abnormal findings in their brains. (Linebackers, guards, centers, defensive ends, etc.) Omalu was an idealistic young dr. Being Nigerian, he knew nothing about American football until he watched it on TV. Omalu insisted on bringing this condition to the attention of the NFL. The remainder of the movie was about Omalu and his supporters fighting the NFL for acknowledgement of these injures.
This was 2002.
I remember when Junior Seau died in 2012. Two weeks earlier, safety Ray Easterling, 62, had shot himself. In April 2011, Dave Duerson, 51, shot himself in the chest, leaving a note that said “please see that my brain is given to the NFL brain bank”. I remembered Duerson, 50, who had played for the Chicago Bears during the 1980s, when I lived in Chicago.
In 1994, the NFL established the Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Committee to study effects of concussions.
I was very saddened by the premature deaths of these men and others. Many who committed suicide were about my age (50-55). Their deaths were a tragedy. They played football from childhood, succeeded in high school and college, and made it to the NFL. After playing professionally for 10-20 years, they should be retiring with a full life in front of them. They have money and families; and should be able to enjoy them. Autopsies of these men and others showed that they suffered from CTE.
It is not proven that CTE is the cause of the symptoms being experienced by afflicted players.
Dave Duerson, Ray Easterling, Junior Seau, Kurt Crain, O.J. Murdock, Mike Current, Paul Oliver, and Adrian Robinson. With the exception of Robinson, each of these players died of self-inflicted gunshot wounds.
Instead of a happy retirement, many of these players had lots of trouble adapting to the real world. They suffered business failures, violence against wives and girlfriends, drug addiction. Many were estranged from their families and were broke. The NFL has a fund to assist players injured playing football, but no one would admit that their problems were caused by playing in the NFL.
NCAA College and NFL Football are ubiquitous. And they make a lot of money – in 2014, the NFL brought in $7.24 billion that was split between its 32 teams. They are big business and very difficult to fight. However, they are petrified of the mothers and fathers of America deciding that football is too dangerous for their children. You see, kids can start playing organized football as early as age 5!
Sure, it is fun to watch and to follow your favorite teams. The action is dramatized by the marketing and commentary during the games. I enjoy watching football – it is fun, there is a lot of hype, and it becomes a habit.
As the movie concluded, they ran a list of football players who had been diagnosed, posthumously, with CTE. As Junior Seau’s name rolled up the screen, I began to cry …
P.S. My father, a neurologist, thinks that people should stop playing football.