Is Big Football The Next Big Tobacco? Ctd

A reader continues the thread:

The NFL has unquestionably gotten bigger and faster and therefore more violent. Partially due to performance enhancing drugs, but also partially due to vastly improved fitness regimens and nutrition research in the past 30 years (weightlifting wasn't even really encouraged in the '60s and early '70s). But to suggest that the previous iterations of the game weren't also dangerous is wrong. Mike Webster, a Hall of Fame center in the '70s, ended up severely brain damaged and died as a homeless man because of it. The NFL knew this.

There's been a spate of suicides from retired and active NFL players in the past few years, many of them coming from depression and drug abuse but also tied to histories of brain damage. One suicide [see update below] from a few years ago, Chris Henry, was 26, but after autopsy was found to have the brain of a 60-something due to chronic traumatic encephalopathy. There are probably more retired NFL players with pugilist's dementia than retired pugilists with pugilist's dementia. The NFL knows this.

There's been a neuropathologist, Bennet Omalu, on the NFL's heels for years about this, and the NFL has consistently denied him. Here are two articles from a few years ago, one from GQ and one from the Washington Post, about him and his research. And here is a video of Bernie Goldberg interviewing one of the NFL's doctors about head trauma and the toadie, a Dr. Casson, denying any connections between football and the problem. The interview reminds me a lot of the "medical experts" in other corrupt industries. The NFL remembers this.

So yeah, the NFL may have some blood on their hands in a few grisly cases of some former players, but they have most assuredly known about the dangers of their sport for years, and only in the past year or two have they begun to panic and CYA and backtrack.

Another adds:

Until very recently, if memory serves, the NFL often attacked studies linking NFL concussions with later cognitive issues.  A quick search of the NY Times confirms my recollection. In fact, we see below that, as recently as 2007, you have a medical consultant for the Indianapolis Colts referring to such research as "virtually worthless":

The N.F.L. has criticized previous papers published by the Center for the Study of Retired Athletes – which identified similar links between on-field concussions and both later mild cognitive impairment and early-onset Alzheimer's disease – and reasserted those concerns this week with regard to the paper on depression.

Several members of the league's mild traumatic brain injury committee cited two main issues in telephone interviews this week: that the survey was returned by 69 percent of the retired players to whom it was mailed, and that those who did respond were relying solely on their memories of on-field concussions. One committee member, Dr. Henry Feuer of the Indiana University Medical Center and a medical consultant for the Indianapolis Colts, went so far as to call the center's findings ''virtually worthless.''

So, yes, these lawsuit by former players will be very interesting.


I'll be excited if the thread about brain injury in football takes off – it's a topic near and dear to my heart. I am a professor specializing in the study of brain signals. I am currently involved in a project that attempts to create a model of chronic mild brain injury in rats with the goal of understanding how multiple "minor" brain injuries accumulate over time to produce the kind of trauma seen in veteran professional athletes. (I keep a blog and I've flagged some useful articles.)

Brain injury is an awful condition because it is very hard to diagnose. There are currently no clinical modalities that can image damaged brain tissue – even experimental research imaging modalities perform poorly in detecting brain damage. In fact, the best method for determining if there is chronic brain injury is to submit to a battery of neuropsychological tests which examine things like short- and long-term memory and so on. But even those aren't perfect, and ultimately you need the opinion of a skilled psychologist to make a determination of brain injury. The best test unfortunately is to test for the presence of tau protein in the brain, or to slice the brain and look for evidence of neuronal injury, both of which can only be done posthumously.

As far as football is concerned, the real question at hand is whether players knew about these risks going in and decided to play anyways. Or alternately, whether the league knew about these issues and neglected to alert players to the risks. That's a prickly legal battle that could easily not favor the players, regardless of how severe their injuries are.

Update from a reader:

I just want to make one minor correction.  Chris Henry was one of my favorite players on the Bengals and a reader e-mail referred to his death as a suicide.  While the situation surrounding his death was sad and his actions possibly a result of a damaged brain, he did not commit suicide.  He fell out of a pickup truck bed while the truck was being driven by his fiance during a domestic dispute. Almost as sad as a suicide and CTE was found in his brain at a later date.  While it is undetermined if the CTE led to his aggressive actions some doctors have acknowledged it is possible.

Another adds:

Your reader might be thinking of Andre Waters, who committed suicide a few years ago. He was in his 40s but was found to have severe brain damage consistent with how your reader described.

Update from the contested reader:

Just thought I'd explain why I said Chris Henry committed suicide. While it's not certain that Chris Henry killed himself, witnesses at the scene of his death said that Henry said from the back of the truck he was in: "If you take off, I'm going to jump off the truck and kill myself." The next thing people saw was him out of the bed of his truck unconscious. I know most the news stories said he fell, but this quote from a witness suggests something possibly more tragic.