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Duerson suicide jolts NFL into concussion consciousness

Dave Masko's picture

EUGENE, Ore., -- In the wake of Dave Duerson’s death wish that his brain be studied to help other pro football players – who may suffer as many as 15 or more concussions during their high school, college and professional playing careers -- "concussion consciousness” has become the talk of the town here in Eugene where the University of Oregon “Ducks” and a number of high school football teams play football.

Duerson, a former Chicago Bears safety who recently died after shooting himself in the chest, had requested in his will that his brain be examined after the years of regular concussions he suffered on the playing field. Duerson reportedly asked that his brain be examined for “chronic traumatic encephalopathy,” a degenerative disease that doctors say is caused by repeated concussions to the head. It’s known that many former football players now suffer from post-concussion illnesses that include the same depression that may have led Duerson to commit suicide.

All youth who play football at risk of concussions

Parents of high school and college football players here in Eugene are more than just upset at the recent news about “Duerson’s sacrifice to bring concussion consciousness to a game that’s harming and possibly killing our youth. It’s simply irresponsible for the NFL to keep the lid on this issue,” said James Cullen, a former University of Oregon football player and the parent of two youths who play high school football.

Cullen explained that “concussion consciousness” puts the focus on the health of football players above the game itself. “We’re saying is the game of football worth the lives of young men either now or down the road when they fall ill.”

In turn, the NFL has responded to the Duerson suicide and public outcry by asking that “all 50 states and the District of Columbia to pass legislation that could help cut down on concussions suffered by young football players.”

NFL kept the lid on concussion issues until after Super Bowl

Cullen is also vocal about how the NFL “kept the lid on the concussions until after the Super Bowl.”

“You look at Troy Aikman calling the Super Bowl for Fox and not talking about quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger and all their concussions. You’d think Aikman, who’s left the game because of his concussions would once mention the fact that both Rodgers and Roethlisberger all had some serious concussions. I was even told that it’s not good for the game to remind people about it,” explained Cullen while staring with a combination of defiance and disgust.

In fact, Troy Aikman announced his retirement from the NFL in 2000 “because of my health, concussions… it took its toll.”

Aikman, who played for 12 years as the starting Dallas Cowboys quarterback, earning three Super Bowl championships, also noted during his retirement speech that he had suffered “as many as 10 concussions during his NFL career, including four in his last 20 starts.”

It’s also known that both Rodgers and Roethlisberger suffered numerous concussions both during this past season and during their football playing careers that we’re viewed as life threatening.

NFL plan to market concussion concern during “off season”

While Duerson’s concussion ravaged brain will be studied at the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy at Boston University School of Medicine, the NFL “is using this as an opportunity to market their concern,” adds Cullen who thinks the federal government and not the NFL should take the lead on “finding solutions to stopping these brain injuries.”

Ironically, the NFL did announce a study on the impact of concussions just about a week prior to Duerson’s suicide that’s linked to years of depression due to the dozen or more concussions he suffered during his pro career. The NFL action was widely viewed as "just putting a bandaid on a serious PR issue," said leading sports experts.

Another detail that the NFL did not publicize during the recent season, was the fact that more than 300 athletes – including 100 current and former NFL players – are on Boston University’s “brain donation registry.”

Moreover, when NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was asked by members of Congress about the issue of concussion awareness, players safety and prevention back in 2009, Goodell simply dodged the questions by pointing out how members of the military face concussions in their day-to-day duties.

In brief, “Goodell has done little to promote concussion consciousness in the NFL, and this is vital because, in turn, that sends the right or wrong message to our high school and college football programs,” explained Cullen while pointing to the estimated 3.4 million young people who play football in America.

Concussions viewed as most serious by fans

While it’s easy to be an arm-chair quarterback and “enjoy” the crash of football helmets on the playing field, some fans do have empathy for the players as human beings and not someone in uniform that you can route for.

“It really changes the way you view the game when you think a player with even one concussion could have long-term effects such as permanent headaches, blurred vision, dementia, Alzheimer’s and even life threatening brain damage. Look, you can die on the field and that’s much more serious than who wins a football game,” explains Jason Erickson who’s a former high school football coach and parent of a former Oregon Ducks player.

Erickson points to something he and other Eugene parents have dubbed “concussion consciousness,” that refers to “an understanding that getting one’s bell rung on the football field is not a joke, some sort test of toughness or something to be laughed off. It’s deadly serious if you care about someone who suffers a concussion.”

At the same time, Erickson and other parents of high school and college football players recently attended a concussion consciousness workshop at the famed Slocum Center for Orthopedics and Sports Medicine in Eugene.

“Slocum has become one of the nation’s leaders in awareness about concussions,” adds Erickson who also noted that that prior to his son’s brain injury, due to a football related concussion, “I never thought much about it.”

According to a Slocum Center fact sheet, “A concussion is a mild traumatic brain injury that interferes with normal brain function. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates there are 300,000 sports concussions among children and adolescents each year in the United States. It is usually caused by a blow to the head, but may occur with a whiplash injury, or when the head strikes the ground. Only about 5-10% of people are knocked unconscious with a concussion. Most are confused, dazed, or complain of a headache. It can be fatal.”

At the same time, the University of Oregon director of athletic medicine, Dr. Greg Skaggs has noted during numerous media interviews that deadly serious for the Ducks football team and they take precautions to include benching a player who’s suffering from a concussion.

However, the quandary that’s in the spotlight with Sunday’s Super Bowl game -- that features two NFL players who have suffered numerous concussions – is when to stop a someone from playing the game, and ultimately save their lives.

“It’s really hard to judge the severity until symptoms are gone, because it’s completely unpredictable how long symptoms will last. We see some kids bounce back a lot quicker than other kids, and we’ll see some kids never recover. You just have to take it one day at a time,” explained Skaggs after a Duck player suffered a massive concussion this past season.

Concussions can kill, harm for life

Neurologists point to a concussion as a “violent shaking that causes the brain cells to become depolarized and fire all their neurotransmitters at once in an unhealthy cascade, flooding the brain with chemicals and deadening certain receptors linked to learning and memory. The results often include confusion, blurred vision, memory loss, nausea and, sometimes, unconsciousness.”

Neurologists also say once a person suffers a concussion, “he is as much as four times more likely to sustain a second one. Moreover, after several concussions, it takes less of a blow to cause the injury and requires more time to recover.”

An NFL study of more than 1,000 football players found 60 to 70 percent had suffered at least one major concussion in their careers, and 26 percent had had three or more. Those who had concussions reported serious memory problems, as well as issues with concentration, speech, headaches and a host of serious neurological problems.

At the same time, more than 50 high school football players have been killed or sustained serious head injuries after a concussion during the past 10 years. This research, requested by Congress, also looked at some 1.2 million teens that play high school or college football and are at risk for concussions.

Concussions viewed as a "buzz kill" by football leadership

It’s now come to light that NFL players who’ve suffered from concussions later died early, suffered from mental health problems and even committed suicide. NFL player Andre Waters, who committed suicide in 2006, had numerous concussions during his pro career. In fact, Waters’ family have allowed doctors to study his brain after finding out that he had 15 concussions during his career.

In just one season, Green Bay's Rodgers got two concussions and then denied he got another on the helmet-rattling hit in the NFC championship game that earned Chicago Bears defensive lineman Julius Peppers a $10,000 fine.

In turn, Pittsburgh's Roethlisberger missed most of last season with a head injury from both concussions and a motor cycle accident that nearly killed him when he wasn’t wearing a helmet.

Brett Favre’s concussion has left him with no feeling in one arm, continued headaches and a view that “I should be thinking about my future,” as the NFL’s iron man prepares to end his career due to both recent and previous head injuries that also plague hundreds of high school and college players who are dealing with concussions.

The issue is simple. There’s no football helmet, mode of play or technology that can stop concussions that scramble and irreversibly damage the brain, leaving football players of all ages at risk for a host of horrible brain maladies both now and in later life.

During a recent NFL Monday night game, Favre stayed motionless for a few seconds before slowly rising. Favre later noted that he was unconscious for a period of time after Bears defensive end Corey Wootton slammed him to the turf, resulting in a major concussion.

Thus, it’s no big surprise that a 2007 study conducted by the University of North Carolina’s Center for the Study of Retired Athletes found that of 595 retired NFL players who recalled sustaining three or more concussions on the football field, more than 20 percent said they have been found to have major depression.

In turn, NFL Commissioner Goodell said: “We don’t allow people to play games with concussions.”

Goodell also answered questions about “taking drastic measures to prevent concussions” in the forthcoming 2011/12 season by turning the game into a sort of flag football and soccer designed game that limits life threatening concussions.

At the same time, there was silence on the subject of concussions during the recent regular season and during network football games due to a perceived “buzz kill,” at a time when NFL teams and TV networks are making record billions.


Submitted by Danforte on
Troy Aikman has a new gig. Despite having a few concussions in his career, the guy can act:

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