Here is a breaking news item hot off the presses: playing football can be bad for the brain.
I kind of knew that already, because of taking a few hits too many to the old noodle during an extremely (un)stellar career as an undersized offensive and defensive lineman at dear old Patrick County, Va., High School. (By the way, I wish that ringing noise in the background would stop!)
Now my suspicions on this have been confirmed by the medical community. It seems that a team of scientists actually analyzed the brain tissue of Junior Seau (no, I’m not making this up), whose career as a National Football League player spanned two decades.
Seau’s family had donated his brain to neuroscientists at the National Institutes for Health as part of ongoing research on traumatic brain injury among football players, after he fatally shot himself in the chest last May.
The recent research has revealed that Seau suffered from a condition called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). It can be characterized by symptoms including impulsiveness, forgetfulness, depression and suicidal tendencies.
Now the real kicker: The degenerative brain disease Seau suffered from likely was caused by his years of hits to the head.
Can anyone say “Duh!”
Is it really a surprise that Seau, or anyone else who played for a long time at a high-impact position such as his (middle linebacker) might be a few bricks shy of a load once he hangs up the pads and cleats? I mean, did anyone think that being whomped up side the head for the better part of 20 years would do Junior’s gray matter any good?
This situation reminds me of smokers who’ve lit up since being old enough to have a T-shirt to roll a cigarette pack up in, then when they’re 75 and coughing up bits of their blackened lungs suddenly realize their habit was bad for them.
In all too many cases, such a “revelation” has resulted in a lawsuit being filed against some tobacco company by the smoker or his or her surviving family members.
So I wonder how long it will be before Seau’s family brings suit against the National Football League based on the latest “findings.”
Of course, the NFL already has come under fire in recent years because it supposedly has not done enough to safeguard players from injuries such as concussions.
While this might well be the case (imagine that, a huge corporation not caring about the welfare of its troops in the trenches), what has resulted is a move from one extreme to the other. For years, extreme violence and vicious hits were a part of the game not only accepted, but encouraged.
But today, league officials seem to penalize, fine or suspend any defender who breathes too hard on an opposing quarterback or receiver — not only for those hits to the head in which someone leads with the helmet, but just about any hard tackle at all.
The game is being ruined as a result, and makes me wonder why everyone just doesn’t start playing touch football or flag football.
It seems to me that the management of the brain-injury situation ignores the reality of football. Regardless of equipment innovations, contact football has and always will be a dangerous sport that can lead to severe injury and this is true for the Little League fields of Surry County all the way up to NFL venues. This should be accepted, or the sport outlawed altogether (which I’m sure many wives or girlfriends wouldn’t mind).
In the meantime, players who lace up their shoes and go out on the gridiron should be real men about the matter and take some responsibility for their own actions. These are guys who have attended college and by now should be fully aware of the relationship between blows to the head and the possibility of chronic long-term brain injury (even those who went to Virginia Tech).
The league can do only so much to protect these behemoths from themselves.
Of course, no one wants to see a great athlete reduced to a walking vegetable later in life (if they can even walk at all), or a suicide victim such as Junior Seau, but the risks would seem to go with the territory. I’m sure some of these musclebound jock-types think they’re invincible or the surface, and even those who don’t likely are willing to accept the inherent dangers of football for their chance at glory and riches.
If a poll were taken among all football players asking whether they’d be willing to trade all the money and popularity for the possibility they might eventually become a brain-damaged cripple, the answer probably would be surprising — or not.
I’d bet 100 percent — or close to it — would still be willing to take that risk.
Tom Joyce is a staff reporter for The Mount Airy News. He can be reached at 719-1924 or firstname.lastname@example.org.