OT: I-AA Player had Brain Trauma

Submitted by cheesheadwolverine on September 13th, 2010 at 5:28 PM

It's become clear in recent years that playing professional football is not good for you.  In fact it pretty much kills you.  The average NFL player will die before sixty and lose 2-3 years of life for every year in the NFL and has vastly multiplied chance at having dementia.  Now we have the first evidence, albiet only anecdotal, that college football does esentially the same thing.  A 21-year-old kid named Owen Thomas who played I-AA football at the University of Pennsylvania killed himself last year after what was described as a sudden change in mood and behavior.  He had no prior history of depression.  An autopsy now shows that he had the early stages of a type of dementia caused by trauma from playing football and which is associated with depression. 

There's no way to say that "football killed him" or even contributed to his depression and suicide, but if a 21 year old kid playing second teir college football (who had never had a concussion, by the way) can have brain trauma from football (and as I understand it this is only diagnosed on autopsy, so there is no way to know whether this is the exception or the rule) it suggests to me that football is really not safe at any level past high-school.  As fans who fund college football (and most of us pro football as well) what moral responsiblity do we bear in all of this?



September 13th, 2010 at 5:37 PM ^

Football is a collision sport, it will always be dangerous and these sort of tragic events will sadly never go away.  As the technology gets better, the better protection offered to the players, but nothing will ever change the way the game is played.  Football at the highest levels is brutal.  RIP to anyone who has died or taken their own lives because of brain damage associated with football.

Deep Under Cover

September 13th, 2010 at 5:38 PM ^

Did they test for "performance enhancers"?  These are known to also make for wild mood swings and deep depressions...

Either way, a tragedy for the football community.  I will keep his family in my thoughts.


September 14th, 2010 at 4:13 PM ^

cause CTE (Cronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) as was described in the post mortum.

Additionally there was a recent study commented on in NYTimes about CTE.  Turns out current research shows that Lou Gehrig actually didnt have Lou Gehrig's disease, he had a form of CTE which mimics ALS.



September 13th, 2010 at 6:09 PM ^

This is a good post. Thanks for bringing up the question.

It frightens me that I patronize a sport that could be doing these kids harm. How to think of the morality of it? I don't know.


September 13th, 2010 at 6:23 PM ^

there really just HAS to be some sort of material or design for these helmets that limit things like concussions and other cases.

I was watching real sports with Bryant Gumble on HBO and there was a piece that correlated concussions to A.L.S. (lou gehrigs disease). It was a fascinating piece that hopefully leads to better care. 

Scott Dreisbach

September 13th, 2010 at 6:30 PM ^

I don't think there is any material that will cushion better one way or another.  The problem comes with the angle of collision and if their is rotational forces.  Say if I guy gets hit head on the brain the will smash against the front and the back of the skull and you get a grade I concussion.  Say that same hits occurs when the receiver is rotating his head to look at the ball the brain has both front and read motion as well as side to side and you will get a grade III concussion.  This kind of concept can be seen when in that Johnny Damon collision with Damon Jackson where Damon was turning his head and got knocked out cold and Damon Jackson walked away.  I don't think the material in the helmets would really help that much.

Tim Waymen

September 13th, 2010 at 6:38 PM ^

My god you present a compelling dilemma.  The problem is not the sport itself but in the way it is played.  Fortunately, more coaches seem more aware of the dangers of concussions, but there has to be more emphasis on prevention rather than treatment.  While helmets may need better cushioning with better distribution of impact, there has to be better understanding of the helmet is more of a last-resort safety device rather than a tool.  From what I understand, leading with the helmet has become too much part of the game based on some unstated idea that the head will be safe no matter how hard the hit.  This needs to change.


September 13th, 2010 at 6:39 PM ^

You can cushion all you want, but it can only help so much. Your head is moving x feet per second and a defender or the ground reduces that to 0 feet per second quickly. Cushioning can help like a seatbelt helps: slowing that rate of acceleration, and since acceleration is related to time squared, every little bit helps. At some point though, you can't drag the process out any longer without putting all the players in gigantic bubblewrap suits. It sucks that it's dangerous, but it's a calculated risk on the part of each and every player.

panthera leo fututio

September 13th, 2010 at 6:57 PM ^

Complete with this disturbing quote from a very ironic source:

“It’s pretty hard to make a jump with one case,” said Dr. James Moriarity, the University of Notre Dame’s head physician, who oversees the athletic department’s medical care. “But if it’s true that that happened, it would kill the sport. As a parent, it’s going to be hard to justify kids going out and doing that.”

Abstracting away rivalry resentment, the decision to put Crist back in the game seems very questionable.


September 13th, 2010 at 7:06 PM ^

There is absolutely no need for the outside layer of a football helmet to be solid plastic. Adding an additional soft, yet dense layer to the outside portion of the helmet will at least marginally dull hard impacts. If it helps even one player it would be worth the change because there is no legitimate reason to keep the current helmet design.


September 13th, 2010 at 7:12 PM ^

As someone who played, and will always love, football, I think it's time to tackle this issue head on. Like Teddy Roosevelt did a century ago, I would not mind the government getting involved in this  - let's do all the necessary research, get as much data as possible, and then aggressively implement solutions to keep the game safe so parents don't worry about their kids playing it. Let's adapt our game so that it continues to grow. It worked great with Teddy Roosevelt, it can work again.


September 13th, 2010 at 7:44 PM ^

Gregg Easterbrook has been on this for a long time.


"But the NFL has not mandated use of anti-concussion helmets, the Riddell Revolution or Schutt DNA. Research suggests they are efficacious; this University of Pittsburgh study found anti-concussion helmets reduce the likelihood of suffering a concussion by about one-third among high school players."


September 13th, 2010 at 7:50 PM ^

My son is a junior in high school and started the season as the #1 QB for his football team.  He lasted until midway through the third quarter of the first game when he was blind sided by a kid that outweighs him by 40 or pounds.  The impact of the kid "steam rolling" my son (who is 6'2" 150lbs) to the turf created a jarring impact with the ground.  My son laid there for 20+minutes and could not sit up (although he had movement in his extremities).  The call was made for an ambulance and he was transported to a hospital for xrays and cat scans (all negative, thank God).

It's been almost 3 weeks since that happened.  Today, he went to a sports medicine doctor for some cognitive testing.  My son is a 4.4 student and has gotten all As his entire academic career.  He scored in the 38th percentile today.  Needless to say, I was stunned.  I have always been skeptical of doctors when it comes to football because I feel they are overly cautious when it comes to clearing kids to play.  But how can I, in good conscience, let this kid go back out onto the field and risk further injury or his future?   On the surface, it's a gut wrenching decision, but in the long run, it's very very simple.

I'm not sure you can manufacture a helmet that will sufficiently protect these kids from the impact that these bigger, faster, stronger players are capable of producing. 

I watched the Lions/Bears and Packers/Eagles games yesterday and was more than a little disturbed by the violent nature the pro game has taken on over the last few years.  I commented to myself that someone is going to die soon.  There's just no way the human body can sustain the amount of force being absorbed in some of these hits.  


September 14th, 2010 at 2:13 PM ^

How many times has your son been tackled and come out of it fine? A lot, I would guess, and so this is probably a <1% issue, at the highest.

Now here's the thing. Are you going to let him drive? The odds of him being seriously injured in an accident are just as high, if not higher. What about going away to college. There's a lot of drugs and alcohol on those campuses. Additionally, did you know that college is the MOST likely time for mental illnesses to appear suddenly, especially dementia and scizophrenia?

I agree that the issue needs continued examination and improvement. I think soft helmets are the way to go, as well as proper coaching for wrap up tackles rather than "big hits", but honestly, any parent who has the inkling that they can keep their children safe from injury, illness, or even death outside of the home is crazy. It's just not possible, and restricting fun, personality developing things is a mistake.

(Furthermore, it should be noted that the average age of former NFL players at death is not THAT much higher than the average age of the American male at death, and the guys that are dying at sixty now all played with technology 40 years ago that wasn't even close. They would play through two, three concussions per game. Not saying it's not true, just making sure everything is in context.)


September 13th, 2010 at 8:04 PM ^

I love football, but I thank my personal god I don't have to earn a living playing it. If we actually cared about people's well-being, we'd NEVER allow them to play football or box. Either that or we'd be like the Romans and just kill them when they were washed up.