HOUSTON -- I keep hearing from people who say former NFL players knew what they
were getting into when they started playing football, so significant
brain injuries are just part of the game and they should get over it.
Even as one who thinks there are too many lawsuits over some
perceived mistreatment, I believe that is a ridiculous, almost
indefensible position to take in this discussion.
People who so casually
say such things are ignorant.
The recent talk about concussions has felt like overkill, and
overkill can make you think things that just aren’t true. If you spend
enough time on Facebook or Twitter (or listening to clowns on talk
radio), you’d think Kate Upton is the most beautiful woman EVER and a
10-second dance she did is the hottest thing EVER.
Wrong and wrong.
Similarly, talk about concussions (and jealousy over the money
athletes make) has some people thinking anyone who ever played
professional football had to know about concussion issues before he
started playing, so he deserves little sympathy for health issues he
might have at the age of 40.
I’m not saying it is all on the NFL, but to put it all on the players makes little sense.
First, consider that when NFL players began playing football, when
they were 7, 8 or 9 years old, nobody asked them if they were willing to
suffer brain damage that might lead to significant health problems
after their careers were over.
If your child’s pee wee football league holds such a discussion
before letting children play, please get in touch with me, I’d like to
attend one of those meetings. Will that stop boys from wanting to play football?
I doubt it, but I bet more parents won’t let them.
Secondly, people who think players knew what they were getting into
act as if we have been having these brain-injury discussions for 50
years. We really haven’t. People know what boxing can do to the brain.
The NFL has always
maintained that helmets kept that from happening in football. End of
The first case of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in a
professional football player wasn’t detected in a retired football
player until 2002. That was only 10 years ago, in 50-year-old Steelers
Hall of Fame center Mike Webster, who suffered from dementia and
Dr. Bennet I. Omalu, who studied Webster’s brain and many others,
believes there is a direct link between repeated blows to the head and
permanent brain damage. Makes sense, doesn’t it? Well, he had trouble
getting the NFL to agree.
Dr. Ira Casson used to be the co-chairman of the NFL Mild Traumatic
Brain Injury Committee (don’t you love how the league put mild in front
of traumatic?), which was formed in 1994. Each time an independent study
such as Omalu’s was introduced, Casson slammed it as being
I’m not saying Casson is wrong, but he is out on a limb darn near by
himself. You don’t think the NFL wanted him to lean a particular
direction in his findings?
In a way, the NFL has been telling us over and over that players have nothing to worry about.
The league didn’t even start studying retired players until 2007. And
then all it did was a phone survey with 120 former players.
that small sample, the league found that those players suffered from
dementia and other memory issues at a rate significantly higher than the
non-football playing population.
What was Casson’s (thus the league’s) stance?
“What I take from this report is there’s a need for further studies
to see whether or not this finding is going to pan out,” he said.
This, while several studies involving brain tissue analysis were
already showing evidence of brain damage in former football players.
Just two years ago, Casson, who didn’t resign from the NFL post until
the end of 2009, testified before Congress that he still wasn’t
convinced football causes brain damage.
“My position is that there is not enough valid, reliable or objective
scientific evidence at present to determine whether or not repeat head
impacts in professional football result in long-term brain damage,” he
Again, as crazy as it sounds, Casson could be right in saying that we still don’t know what we know. So we’re still waiting for the NFL to say concussions can cause long-term problems.
Does that mean the league should be sued by every guy who ever put on
Hardly. But to say players knew what they were getting into
is simply not true.
So please, stop.
Jerome Solomon can be reached via e-mail at Jerome.Solomon@chron.com.