Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Monday, June 28, 2010 9:15 pm

Researchers: Chris Henry had long-term brain damage

Filed under: Sad — Lex @ 9:15 pm
Tags: , , ,

Sad:

Cincinnati Bengals receiver Chris Henry suffered from a chronic brain injury that may have influenced his mental state and behavior before he died last winter, West Virginia University researchers said Monday.

The doctors had done a microscopic tissue analysis of Henry’s brain that showed he suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

Neurosurgeon Julian Bailes and California medical examiner Bennet Omalu, co-directors of the Brain Injury Research Institute at WVU, announced their findings alongside Henry’s mother, Carolyn Henry Glaspy, who called it a “big shock” because she knew nothing about her 26-year-old son’s underlying condition or the disease.

Henry died in December, a day after he came out of the back of a pickup truck his fiancee was driving near their home in Charlotte, N.C. It’s unclear whether Henry jumped or fell. Toxicology tests found no alcohol in his system, and an autopsy concluded he died of numerous head injuries, including a fractured skull and brain hemorrhaging.

But Bailes, team doctor for the Mountaineers and a former Pittsburgh Steelers physician, said it’s easy to distinguish those acute traumatic injuries from the underlying condition he and Omalu found when staining tiny slices of Henry’s brain.

I’ve written a couple of times about the growing body of research into long-term brain damage caused by contact in football. (Researcher Omalu is also quoted in the GQ article linked in that second post.) In Chris Henry’s case, it’s important to distinguish what we know from what we don’t: specifically, whether his erratic behavior was caused by the underlying long-term brain damage or not.

And as I’ve said before, a reckoning is coming for organized football at all levels but particularly the college and pro games and their fans, me included. Depending on what additional research reveals, this kind of brain damage, which may be simply the normal consequence of routine contact in college and pro ball, could be an existential threat to the game because at least right now technology cannot provide a solution.

Where does it end? I think the two likeliest endings are 1) the legal liability will become too great for even the vast revenues generated by those games to overcome, or 2) a critical number of fans will conclude that they’re not willing to countenance widespread, permanent, potentially lethal brain damage among the players who entertain them. Which happens first, I don’t know.

But I still maintain the belief, or at least the hope, that America won’t continue to support the games at this level if it turns out that widespread premature death is indeed the routine cost.

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