Football concussion brain injuries story gets even worse

Today is a fall Sunday in the US and this afternoon about a thousand large and muscular men are going to spend three hours pounding the stuffing out of each other to the cheers of the crowd. What is becoming increasingly clear is that with each hit, the players are receiving brain injuries that down the road will lead to many of them suffering from symptoms akin to dementia. I wrote about this before (see here and here) but now more disturbing stories are coming to light.

Three more football players have been diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), the brain disease the onset of which is believed to be triggered by the repeated concussions football players receive. Earlier diagnoses were based on autopsies of those who were deceased but now they seem to have a developed a diagnostic tool that can be used on living players.

What grabbed my attention is that one of the three is running back Tony Dorsett. He is the only professional football player with whom I have even the remotest connection though I have never met him. I have been to just one football game in my life. That was decades ago and the only player I recall seeing play is Dorsett. It was sad to hear him describe his life now.

The former Cowboys running back, now 59, said that when he took his Oct. 21 flight from Dallas to Los Angeles for testing, he repeatedly struggled to remember why he was aboard the plane and where he was going. Such episodes, he said, are commonplace when he travels.

Dorsett said he also gets lost when he drives his two youngest daughters, ages 15 and 10, to their soccer and volleyball games.

“I’ve got to take them to places that I’ve been going to for many, many, many years, and then I don’t know how to get there,” he said.

The 1976 Heisman Trophy winner and eighth all-time leading NFL rusher said he has trouble controlling his emotions and is prone to outbursts at his wife and daughters.

“It’s painful, man, for my daughters to say they’re scared of me.” After a long pause, he tearfully reiterated, “It’s painful.”

Dorsett said doctors have told him he is clinically depressed.

“I’ve thought about crazy stuff, sort of like, ‘Why do I need to continue going through this?'” he said. “I’m too smart of a person, I like to think, to take my life, but it’s crossed my mind.”

Dorsett’s case may cause particular concern because he was not an offensive or defensive lineman who are usually the people giving and taking the most number of hard hits on almost every play. He plays a so-called skills position and usually gets hit only when he has the ball. So the fact that even he seems to have CTE should be a real warning sign. Wide receiver Mark Duper, another skills position player, has also developed signs of the disease. Quarterback Jim McMahon is another skills player who is reporting symptoms of CTE, according to this report that says that Ridley Scott is planning to make a film in which football concussions play a major role. Some of these players are showing signs in their early fifties.

The problem is that unlike other dangerous activities where the risks are readily apparent, the downside in football manifests itself slowly and much later, the way smoking does. So players may not fully appreciate the risks they are taking or, again like smokers, gamble that they will somehow escape the consequences.

I really don’t know how you can prevent these injuries without changing football completely from the type of game that the fans seem to want and makes the NFL a ton of money. And yet it seems really cruel to encourage people to risk their lives this way, however good the money or adulation is in the short term.

I have a colleague whose son has a football scholarship to college and I discussed this topic with her. He is a natural athlete who was very good at baseball too in high school but he gave that up for the glamor of football. She says that she worries about him and well she might. The best thing to happen to him might be what he thinks is the worst, that he is judged to be not good enough for the pros.


  1. left0ver1under says

    Three more football players have been diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), the brain disease the onset of which is believed to be triggered by the repeated concussions football players receive.

    Players without a single recorded concussion have been diagnosed with CTE. There’s an old saying:

    “It’s not the hundredth hit that breaks the rock, it’s the 99 before it.”

    It’s not the concussions that are the worry, the single big hits. It’s the thousands of hits at the line of scrimmage on every single play which cause the most damage.

    And it’s not just the sixteen game season. The NFL has full contact practices between games and in the off season, plus preseason games where they are – literally – fighting for jobs. Players are enduring around 30 games worth of hits per year, with little time to recover from mild or severe concussions. Reporting a concussion means they don’t play, and they probably get cut from the team.

    The same is true throughout college and even high school. A player will have endured 10-12 years of hits before ever setting foot on an NFL field. As seen in the Frontline documentary, college and high school kids are dying of CTE.

    I have to wonder if the effects of concussion played a role in the suicide of an Alabama teen, Christian Adamek. Adamek was facing inflated charges of “being a sexual predator” after streaking on school grounds, on a dare by his football teammates. Even if it doesn’t, it’s still horrific that a school principal bullies a teen to death.

  2. colnago80 says

    So what’s the solution? Ban football? Not going to happen in this lifetime. The amount of money involved, including wagering on games, is too staggering for any such solution.

  3. Mano Singham says

    I think that no educational institution, K-12 or college, should have football because we cannot in good conscience put our brand of approval on such a dangerous activity.

  4. colnago80 says

    Unfortunately, the amount of money involved in Division I college football essentially precludes banning it. In some places (e.g. rural areas in Texas) football is a religion so banning it at the K12 level in those places is also not going to happen.

  5. dangerousbeans says

    require the football teams/ orginisations to pay disability pensions, and pay for disability services, for any player who is unable to hold a job after leaving the team.
    it should be viewed the same as workers compensation is (in civilised countries, in the US you probably just get fired), if someone gets injured doing their job (e.g. mining or football), their work place should be held accountable.

  6. Forbidden Snowflake says

    Like the comic I linked above says: “Publicly subsidized institutions that claim to be about learning shouldn’t spend their fortunes toward giving teenagers brain damage”.
    Not at all the same thing as trying to forbid adults to choose a dangerous job or hobby.

  7. Wylann says

    I watched just one of the games yesterday, and there were two instances where a player was hit hard enough to go unconscious for at least a few seconds. I know that’s unusual, but it is always painful to watch, and I when I see that, I wonder about the long term consequences.

    I did play football as a kid, from about 8 years old until my jr year of high school.

  8. blutexan says

    Mark Duper may be suffering from his own excellence. It is my understanding that some of these concussive injuries happen when players like him make cuts or changes of direction on the field that are so quick that they suffer low level brain bruising without being hit. As more is learned, I wonder about the future of the sport.

  9. smrnda says

    True. Last I checked, schools don’t have MMA competitions, and this hasn’t stopped adults from freely participating in a dangerous sport.

  10. wtfwhateverd00d says

    Also Mano, something that I think needs greater attention is injuries to cheerleaders in High School and college.

    Cheerleaders today often are encouraged to engage in very risky stunts and often due to a feminist perversion of Title IX without the health and safety and planning resources that **athletic** programs are given.

    And I am serious about all aspects of that: cheerleading is dangerous, and because feminists have not wanted to consider cheerleading a sport cheerleading programs are not given athletic program money and for example, there is no requirement for doctors, EMT to be present during cheerleading performances.

    And while you are looking at that, and I think those are good things to examine, I also wonder about gymnastics injuries, especially in very young girls often in private gym courses who are pushed by coaches and probably not given the intense 1:1 time they deserve to take on routines that are either dangerous or they are not yet ready for. At my daughter’s first gym meet, we saw one girl, age 10 or so, get a compound fracture. Two years later, my niece suffers a fracture. Is young girls gymnastics really as safe as it could be or should be?

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