Former Chicago Bear great Dave Duerson died of a self-inflicted gun shot wound to the chest nearly two weeks ago. In his final hours the four-time pro bowler sent text messages to family members asking that his brain be examined for chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative disease found in individuals that have been subjected to multiple concussions and other forms of head trauma. Duerson’s final message to his family should send chills down the spine of any owner or player lobbying for an 18-game NFL season.
As the family of the late Dave Duerson prepared his final arrangements, the NFL owners and players were locked in a battle for revenue sharing and among other things an 18-game season that assuredly increases the in all likelihood the probability for player concussions and head injuries from this past season.
Ironically, Duerson served on a NFL panel that weighs disability claims from retired players – in recent years the panel has come under scrutiny for denials of claims related to diminished mental capacities stemming from football. Duerson’s family has agreed to to donate his brain to Boston University’s medical school for their study of the degenerative disease, which has been tied to depression, dementia and occasionally suicide in the former players.
In studies done on five NFL players (post mortem) the findings are that their brains resemble that of a boxer or an 80-year old.
That’s not worth 2 more games on any schedule.
The most notable of NFL players to suffer from CTE was Mike Webster the Hall of Fame center for the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1970’s and 80’s. Webster’s life after football spiraled out of control into a world of drug abuse, homelessness, depression and dementia. Webster died of a heart attack on September 24, 2002 homeless and unprotected by the shield that only seems to take care of their own as long as they contribute to their “bottom line”. Others that were diagnosed with CTE at the time of their deaths were former Eagles safety Andre Watters and former Steelers lineman Terry Long.
Boston University Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy discovered that 13 NFL players (some of whom committed suicide) suffered from CTE. Among them was Chris Henry who was suffering from CTE at the time of his death (non-CTE related) last season.
Roger Goodell, the NFL owners and the NFLPA are beyond wrong – this is a league that has reluctantly, if at all taken care of their own once they’ve left the playing field. Whether it was Johnny Unitas still doing card shows after losing total use of his right hand to pay medical bills or former Steerlers lineman Mike Strzelczyk, a fun loving guy by all accounts who took Central New York police on a 40-mile chase that ended in his fiery death because he was running from “evil voices” that he was hearing.
Dave Duerson’s final wish was to be a contributor into finding out why the sport that he loved so much could bring him to this point. “Please, see that my brain is given to the NFL’s brain bank,” was his written message before his suicide.
Duerson, who had become a thriving business owner after his playing days had fallen on hard times, he had filed for bankruptcy this past September as his 17-room home went into foreclosure.
Duerson more than likely would have recovered from his financial woes – but dealing with short-term memory loss, blurred vision and headaches on the “left side of his brain” were the onset of something that Duerson would not allow to run it’s course.
If Duerson didn’t not suffer any effects of CTE – he took his life out of his fear of it.
The effects of CTE has not only occured in retired NFL players, it has been diagnosed on the collegiate and high school levels. In April 2010 University of Pennsylvania defensive end Owen Thomas committed suicide at the age of 21.
Football and Boxing are two sports on a dangerously similar parallel. I always wanted my son to play football but I would never entertain the thought of watching him take blow after blow to the head for 12 rounds. It’s like alcohol and drugs – they say one is a slower death, but if you take the “slower death” in heavy doses what’s the difference.
The NFL is at it’s highest point in revenue and popularity, the one thing that would change all of that is a death on the field (Heaven forbid). Measures need to be taken now to ensure the safety of players at every level of competition.
Begin with eliminating the thought of an 18-game schedule.