January 27, 2009

Dead athletes' brains show stunning damage: Researchers using new technology to study brain tissue from dead NFL athletes say they're surprised at how extensive the damage is from concussions. Far from innocuous, invisible injuries, concussions confer tremendous brain damage. That damage now has a name: chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Some of the symptoms include "...depression, sleep disorders and mental fatigue."

posted by dusted to football at 01:00 PM - 17 comments

Some of these athletes died in their 30s and 40s, but the injuries to their brains resembled the damage visible in the brains of 80 year olds with dementia. Former NFL players with lots of concussions during their career often end up with chronic pain, depression and other mental illnesses.

The NFL's response: "Hundreds of thousands of people have played football and other sports without experiencing any problem of this type and there continues to be considerable debate within the medical community on the precise long-term effects of concussions and how they relate to other risk factors."

posted by dusted at 01:08 PM on January 27, 2009

Simple solution. Dont get concused.

My thoughts on alot of this are still the same as they have always been. I played High school and college ball and feel the effects now and am only 30 years old. My knees are shot. i need a shoulder taken apart You know when you sign up that this is a brutal game. You know when you sign your contract for millions of dollars that this is a brutal game. If yuou do not realize that you are doing long term damage to yourself, you are just stupid.


I feel bad for these guys and their health problems. I really do. They destroy themselves for us BUT they still sign up and still show every sunday. I wish we could help them i really do. If you cant deal with potential risks. DONT PLAY!!

posted by Debo270 at 03:03 PM on January 27, 2009

Debo, while I think we all understand your point that no one forces you to play pro football, the troubling aspect of this article is that it may indicate that consequences such as brain injury and early dementia aren't "risks", they're inevitabilities. If that's so, as much as I love football, I'm not so sure I could continue to support it as a fan. Maybe you can just say, "Hey, it's their choice" -- well, it's our choice as fans whether we want to dangle the carrot in front of someone who's engaged in a destructive activity.

posted by lil_brown_bat at 03:58 PM on January 27, 2009

Today is a missed opportunity by the NFL to embrace some new findings which could eventually lead to better equipment and protection for players. The hawkish legal response disgusts me.

posted by garfield at 05:17 PM on January 27, 2009

It's a real shame, but I don't think change will come to football (or hockey, or any contact sport) until there's a dependable way to measure the effects of concussions on the living. In terms of measurable factors, there's too much money on the one side and too little information on the other to let athletes (and their doctors) make wise decisions.

That said, this is huge progress from the party line of 15 years ago where kids "got their bell rung" and were expected to just shake the cobwebs off and get back in the game. I completely agree with garfield that the NFL is taking a ridiculous, nearly backwards stance on this.

posted by DrJohnEvans at 05:32 PM on January 27, 2009

I'm totally with you, brown bat

posted by outonleave at 06:55 PM on January 27, 2009

I played High school and college ball and feel the effects now and am only 30 years old.

Ditto here. Same background and I'm 37... 2 shoulder surgeries in the past few years and just getting out of the bath soaking my knee which has been killing me for 2 nights and will likely need to be scoped.

The average NFL career is less than 4 years and the average life expectancy of an NFL player is some 12-15 years shorter than average. Add to that the shortened life if usually filled with pain, surgeries, and now apparently a greater risk of dementia, and you can see why these "millionaires" scratch for every last penny (and have to listen to fans call them prima-donnas and "why are they arguing over an extra million!?!" comments)

posted by bdaddy at 09:22 PM on January 27, 2009

It's shit like this that makes me think we should look into football more and it's place in our culture. You know, while these guys are out there killing themselves playing the game. This is hardly the first time the subject has been raised. I'm not saying it shouldn't be played. Goodness no. Football is great. But these guys are clearly at least shortening their lifespans by significant margins as a result of playing. They don't have guaranteed contracts, the sport is littered with the bodies of old broke retired players, and the drugs and violence off the field is noteworthy (though perhaps overemphasized). And it's the most successful sport going. Football isn't like the other ones, is it?

posted by WeedyMcSmokey at 11:51 PM on January 27, 2009

"If yuou do not realize that you are doing long term damage to yourself, you are just stupid. "

Yeah, because I'm sure the NFL requires an intelligence test. Common sense generally isn't that common.

posted by Drood at 05:50 AM on January 28, 2009

To me the NFL players are the least of our worries...they actually make some money out of the deal...I worry more about the college and high school players that also suffer these injuries without any long term compensation.

I know several players that suffered concussions as the result of playing school/college football. Now, I'm sure they did suffer as many as most NFL players, but is there really as safe level? I would be the average Div. I lineman takes almost as heavy of head hits as an NFL lineman, and I wonder how much injury they sustain.

posted by dviking at 05:29 PM on January 28, 2009

And that brings into question the difference between a professional player's mindset vs. that of a high school or college player.

Is the professional player more likely to recognize that he was concussed, and then pull himself out of the game for immediate treatment? Will a struggling college player who desperately needs a professional contract take the same approach? Does a high school player have the ability to determine if his "bell was rung"?

There are so many questions and I think DrJ has the best idea of what needs to happen before any league will take more initiative, and that is:

It's a real shame, but I don't think change will come to football (or hockey, or any contact sport) until there's a dependable way to measure the effects of concussions on the living.

Brainscan, maybe?

posted by BoKnows at 05:44 PM on January 28, 2009

Why is it an either-or thing? I can see plenty of factors at the high school or college or professional level that could influence a player to try to stay in the game when they should come out because of injury. In the case of a head injury, judgment is potentially impaired, so the situation is even worse.

I agree that better diagnostics and metrics are needed, but I disagree -- strongly -- that the onus is on...what, the scientific/medical community? to make that happen. In the absence of these metrics, should everyone else feel justified to just sit on their hands and ignore what's happening? We're talking about human bodies, and there may very well never be a dependable, unambiguous measure of brain injury. In the meantime, shouldn't it be the responsibility of all parties -- including fans -- to do what we can to make it possible for athletes and coaches to make the right decision?

posted by lil_brown_bat at 05:56 PM on January 28, 2009

I do agree with that, lbb. There are definitely factors that could encourage or discourage a player of any level to stay in or come out of any game. No doubt. And if the player's judgment is impaired, then the coaches/medical staff/trainers, I think, should take a "better safe than sorry" approach when evaluating a player after a hard hit. The only way that will happen, though, is if they can somehow be held accountable for the lasting effects that occur. And without that measure of the brain, our laws would never support it. I wish we could count on all people to just "do what's right" for the player, but I'm very pessimistic about that developing into anything lasting. Most coaches/players/fans are concerned about the now, not the future. They want to win this game, not be healthy enough to win a game in 2 years.

As far as the medical community is concerned, I don't think that the onus is entirely on them to solve the problem, but if they can develop a better measure, then the rest of the sporting associations will have a lot less to disregard.

posted by BoKnows at 06:27 PM on January 28, 2009

And they put Gene Upshaw's initials on every field and uni this season, the guy who has done more to screw injured players than anyone else in history.

posted by sfts2 at 01:15 PM on January 29, 2009

There is an eye exam that enables opthimologists (sp) who have it to see in the back of the eye which will show brain damage. I do not understand how it works but there are those that are working to make it portable enough for military use, perhaps the NFL should look into it as well.

I'm not so sure in these economic times if high schools and colleges could buy such equipment but I think it would be well worth it. Having worked high school and college football games as an EMT, it can be tough to diagnose "Rung Bells" on the field. I'd have loved to have been trained to use such a tool when asked to decide if a player should be aloud to continue playing.

posted by Folkways at 02:56 PM on January 29, 2009

I know several players that suffered concussions as the result of playing school/college football. Now, I'm sure they did suffer as many as most NFL players, but is there really as safe level?

I know in the rugby union in New Zealand doctors have been arguing that you should basically retire if you suffer 3 significant concussions; Leon MacDonald (aka "Captain Consussion") was a nexus for this discussion a few years back. Various neurological tests are pretty much routine after concussions, but there's still a huge amount of pressure on players, from themselves and from their teams, to get back on the field.

posted by rodgerd at 04:06 PM on January 29, 2009

Here's another wrinkle for consideration:

While many players have impaired judgment after a concussion, for some this has the practical effect of lowering their inhibitions, making them even more aggressive and effective on the field. I have seen it personally before. I wonder if part of the reason it is "hard to know when someone has had their bell rung" isn't b/c it is difficult to tell, but b/c you want to wait until after they have mowed everyone down in their path until the final seconds tick off. After the game is over, then you can have a look at them.

While i doubt this is a widespread phenomenon, people with no inhibitions or instincts to protect themselves are entertaining to watch and root for. Perhaps this is why no one is in a hurry to get better equipment/diagnostic tools, etc. It makes for better tv. Unethical as it comes no doubt, but i can tell you that it isn't hard from the field or sidelines to tell if an athlete has had their "bell rung." The reality is that this in itself sometimes increases a team's chances of success. So that is why i doubt much will be done about this until it somehow becomes a national pr embarassment for the sport, later consequences for players be damned.

posted by brainofdtrain at 10:55 AM on January 31, 2009

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