Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Tuesday, December 22, 2009 12:15 pm

More bell-ringing

I blogged two months ago about Malcolm Gladwell’s New Yorker article on chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), brain damage among NFL players who have suffered concussions. Since that article, the co-chairs of the league’s committee on brain injuries have resigned (read: “resigned”) after players said they’d lost faith in the committee’s objectivity.

The committee has been in denial on this, a fact the New Yorker article touched on. That fact is examined in more detail in this article by Jeanne Marie Laskas in GQ (h/t: DivaGeek, via e-mail). As with Gladwell’s article, it’s a bit lengthy but well worth your time … and likely to prompt some serious reflection from fans about what our sports heroes endure for our entertainment.

Of special note to Panthers fans is the brief mention of former Panthers center Curtis Whitley, “just 39 when he was found facedown in the bathroom of a rented trailer in West Texas, shirtless, shoeless, wearing blue warm-up pants. [Dr. Bennet]  Omalu got his brain, examined it, and found CTE.” Whitley’s case was the 17th Dr. Omalu had identified, an incredibly high number compared with what one would expect to find in a similarly sized random sample of the population at large. Whitley’s mom shows up in the article comments and leaves he e-mail address for those who’d like to pass on their condolences.

GQ emphasizes more heavily than the New Yorker the possible contribution of steroids to the problem, but neither article claims evidence of a definitive link.

Both articles also make relatively clear that if this problem is to be solved, equipment will not be the answer. The problem is not necessarily how hard your head hits something, it’s how hard your brain hits the inside of your skull and whether there is any sideways motion that can lead to tearing.

A reckoning is coming, for the NFL and perhaps for all of football, down to youth leagues. Players, their parents and fans likely will soon have some significant, and grim, new information to incorporate into their calculations of and tolerance for risk. I love this game, but not so much that I want to see people die or suffer brain damage to the point of dementia for my entertainment.

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