The Beginning of the Season, and The End of Football (as we know it)

 Jr Seau_cte_findings

As much as I love football, and as much as you love football, and as much as America loves football, football will not last forever. It can’t.  Given how it’s butchering our boys and maiming our men, this just can’t go on forever.

Retired NFL star Junior Seau had a degenerative brain disease when he committed suicide in 2012 at the age of 43, according to a study by the National Institutes of Health. ABC News/ESPN reported that Seau’s family was told of the findings, which determined the brain of the All-Pro linebacker showed abnormalities associated with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

Here’s a blog from Kevin Mind about the impending end of football:

“Evan Murray was a 17-year-old high school senior, honor student, and three-sport athlete who died recently as a direct result of injuries sustained playing quarterback for his school football team.  On the last play of his life, he got drilled by a defender with a clean hit to the midsection.  He gathered himself, rose, and walked off the field on his own.  Shortly thereafter, however, he collapsed on the sideline and the on-site ambulance transported him to the hospital.  It’s unclear what happened next, whether he died en route to the hospital or in the ER or during emergency surgery.  He died, though.  That much is true.  The 17 year old boy died playing a game on a Friday night in his hometown under the lights in front of friends and family.

The worst part is that Evan Murray was not an anomaly.  In the past three weeks, three high school football players have died from football related injuries.  Ben Hamm was a 16-year-old kid from Oklahoma, who collapsed after a tackle.  The impact of the hit caused significant intracranial bleeding.  And despite the best efforts of local neurosurgeons, he was unable to be saved.  Before that, Tyrell Cameron, a 16-year-old from Louisiana, broke his neck covering a punt and died on the field from asphyxiation.  Three deaths in three weeks.  Three teenagers.

Every year 12 boys and young men die playing high school or college football.  Doesn’t sound like a lot, I guess, in the grand scheme of things.  More teenagers and young adults die in traffic accidents over Christmas break than in 20 years of amateur football competitions.  And many of those football deaths are more a function of underlying medical issues like cardiac abnormalities or sickle cell disease.  But many are directly football related.  What if only six kids died every year as a result of football injury?  Does that make it any better?  Is that a number we are all comfortable with?  I have a four-year-old son.   The idea of sending him out to play a game in which there is a statistical possibility that he might die on the playing field makes my stomach turn.

And we haven’t even mentioned the long-term effects of repeated head trauma that football players sustain.  Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is a degenerative disease affecting people who are subjected to repeated concussive and sub-concussive head traumas leading to progressive neurologic decline, dementia, and psychiatric instability. 

Formerly known as “Punch Drunk Syndrome” when used to describe retired pugilists, the pathophysiology has been well documented and described, especially at Boston University, by neurologists and pathologists studying the brains of selected deceased football players, both from the professional and amateur ranks.  Frontline, the investigative arm of PBS, recently reported on findings from Veterans Administration/Boston University researchers that confirmed CTE in the brains of 87 of 91 former NFL players studied and 131 out of 165 men who had played football either professionally or in high school/college.  The National Football League recently settled a class-action lawsuit brought by thousands of former players suffering from the ravages of CTE for $765 million.

But you object, and you say:  ‘CTE is a disease of older, retired, broken down NFL players — think Mike Webster, Gene Hickerson, John Mackey — players who played long ago in a far more brutal, less regulated era.  We have high-tech helmets now, and penalties for spearing and headshots and you can’t hit the quarterback after he throws.  The game’s been cleaned up, you say.  There are ‘concussion protocols’!  It’s safer!  Roger Goodell said so!’”


This just can’t go on forever.

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