Ball Of ConcussionUpdated
by Michael Maynard
March 17, 2015

I hope Junior Seau is finally resting in peace. The beloved star linebacker for the University of Southern California and the National Football League’s (NFL) San Diego Chargers and the New England Patriots was known for his passion for the game and his joy for living life to its fullest. This makes his suicide on May 2, 2012 all the more painful for his family, friends and fans, like me.

OCEANSIDE, Calif. – Junior Seau’s last days were filled with friends and flirting, beaches and bar-hopping, lifting weights and lifting spirits. His nights were another story.

Hours after Seau’s suicide, his 11-year-old son, Hunter, told his mother, Seau’s ex-wife Gina, what he’d seen while staying with his father a month earlier. Hunter got up about 3 a.m. to let out Rock, a pit bull-mastiff mix. His father’s bedroom light was on, so Hunter peeked in, as Gina relates his tale.

There was his dad, sitting up on his bed, wide awake, staring at the TV. But the TV wasn’t on. He wasn’t reading. He wasn’t writing. He was just staring.

“Dad, are you OK?” Hunter asked.

“Yes, son,” Seau said. “I’m fine.”

He wasn’t. Seau’s friends and family say he’d had trouble sleeping for years and often took powerful sleep aids, and not always as directed.

On Saturday, it will be one month since the former all-pro linebacker died at 43. Authorities say he shot himself in the chest with a .357-caliber Magnum revolver on the morning of May 2 at his home. USA TODAY Sports talked to more than 50 of Seau’s friends, family members, neighbors and former teammates who are trying to reconcile his terrible end with what seemed a charmed life.

Junior Seau’s severe depression and resulting suicide are not unique. Ex-NFl players Dave Duerson and Ray Easterling also committed suicide within the 2 years of Seau’s death. It is believed that Junior Seau suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a progressive neurodegenerative disease that can be a contributing factor in dementia, memory loss and depression. Seau’s will stated his brain was to be given to the National Institute of Health for its research on CTE.

Approximately 1700 men played in the NFL in 2013. 152 NFL players suffered a concussion in 2013, (approximately 9%) with 67% of those players missing at least one game, according to PBS’s “Concussion Watch.”

On Monday, Thursday and Saturday nights and Sunday afternoons throughout the fall and beginning of winter, professional football is America’s, and increasingly the world’s, favorite pastime. According to a Adweek/Harris Poll, 64% stated that they watch the NFL weekly, 73% of men and 55% of women. The NFL stated that 105.9 million watched the first week’s games of the 2012 season.

This passion for football goes beyond the professional level.

Colleges and Universities 65,648 college students play NCAA Division I football.

High, Middle and Grade Schools – More than 1.5 million play organized football

The national Pop Warner and Pee-Wee Football organizations – over 250,000 kids from 5 to 14 years old participated in Pop Warner football leagues in 2010.

Of the 1.5 million high school football players in the U.S., 250,000 suffer a concussion in any given season, according to a survey conducted for The American Journal of Public Health.

  • A player who has already suffered a concussion is four times more likely to get one than a player who has been concussion-free. Quarterbacks, running backs, receivers and defensive backs are most vulnerable, […] that special teams players were at the highest risk per minute spent on the field.
  • Concussions are underreported at all levels of football. This is partly because of the subtlety of a mild concussion (unless a player is as woozy as a wino, the injury might go undetected by a busy trainer or coach) but primarily because players have bought into football’s rub-dirt-on-it ethos. “If we get knocked in the head, it’s embarrassing to come to the sideline and say, ‘Hey, my head’s feeling funny,’ ” says San Francisco 49er quarterback Steve Young, who has suffered at least a half dozen concussions. “So I’m sure we’re denying it.”
  • Football’s guidelines for players returning after concussions are sometimes more lenient than boxing’s. The New Jersey Boxing Commission requires a fighter who is knocked out to wait 60 days and submit to an electroencephalogram (EEG) before being allowed back into the ring.
  • According to Ken Kutner, a New Jersey neuropsychologist, postconcussion syndrome is far more widespread than the NFL or even those suffering from the syndrome would lead us to believe. […] Kutner says that the players fear that admitting to postconcussion syndrome might cost them a job after retirement from football.

Yes, it is widely believed that the Parkinson Disease of the Greatest of All Time, Muhammad Ali, was caused from too many blows to the head. The Champ has formed the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center and Movement Disorders Clinic with the St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix, Arizona.

But it’s not just football and boxing that cause concussions – former National Soccer League star, Taylor Twellman, suffered concussions.

Professional wrestling is fake, it’s not real competition, so professional wrestlers don’t get concussions, do they? Yes, they do. Ask Christopher Nowinski, by the way, who was a Harvard University graduate. Nowinski suffered a debilitating concussion in his first World Wrestling entertainment performance, which stopped the plans for his becoming a big WWE superstar.

How do concussions occur?

How Concussions Happen

How Concussions Happen

A concussion is defined as a complex pathophysiological process that affects the brain, typically induced by trauma to the brain. It can be caused either by a direct blow to the head, or an indirect blow to the body, causing neurological impairments that may resolve spontaneously. Symptoms usually reflect a functional disturbance to the brain, and may include physical (e.g., headaches, nausea), cognitive (e.g., difficulty with concentration or memory), emotional (e.g., irritability, sadness), and ‘maintenance’ (e.g., sleep disturbances, changes in appetite or energy levels) symptoms. A concussion is considered a brain injury.

The adult brain is a three pound organ that basically floats inside the skull. It is surrounded by cerebral spinal fluid, which acts as a shock absorber for minor impacts. When the brain moves rapidly inside the skull, a concussion has technically occurred. One common scenario that can lead to a concussion is a direct blow to the head or a whiplash effect to the body. The impact rapidly accelerates the head, causing the brain to strike the inner skull (i.e., the coup). When the head decelerates and stops its motion, the brain then hits the opposite side of the inner skull (i.e., the contrecoup). The second common scenario is a rotational concussion, in which the head rapidly rotates from one side to another causing shearing and straining of brain tissues. In either case, delicate neural pathways in the brain can become damaged, causing neurological disturbances.

And the age when concussion occurs is a factor.

There are distinct differences in age when it comes to managing sport related concussions. Recent research demonstrates that high school athletes not only take longer to recover after a concussion when compared to collegiate or professional athletes, but they also may experience greater severity of symptoms and more neurological disturbances as measured by neuropsychological and postural stability tests. It is also estimated that 53% of high school athletes have sustained a concussion before participation in high school sports, and 36% of collegiate athletes have a history of multiple concussions. Because the frontal lobes of the human brain continue to develop until age 25, it is vital to manage youth concussions very conservatively to ensure optimal neurological development and outcomes.

How are concussions and Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy linked?

Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy   (CTE) is a progressive degenerative disease of the brain found in athletes (and others) with a history of repetitive brain trauma, including symptomatic concussions as well as asymptomatic subconcussive hits to the head. CTE has been known to affect boxers since the 1920s. However, recent reports have been published of neuropathologically confirmed CTE in retired professional football players and other athletes who have a history of repetitive brain trauma. This trauma triggers progressive degeneration of the brain tissue, including the build-up of an abnormal protein called tau. These changes in the brain can begin months, years, or even decades after the last brain trauma or end of active athletic involvement. The brain degeneration is associated with memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, impulse control problems, aggression, depression, and, eventually, progressive dementia.

Taylor Twellman and Christopher Nowinski have become leading advocates about the effects of CTE. Taylor Twellman has formed the ThinkTaylor Foundation:

inspired to make a difference in the world of concussions, Taylor, with the support of his family, founded the ThinkTaylor Foundation. The ThinkTaylor Foundation is driven and dedicated to changing the culture in the world of concussions. ThinkTaylor’s positive message emphasizing awareness, education and putting the health of kids first will create positive social change and in return a safer, healthier and smarter environment.

Christopher Nowinski has joined forces with noted doctor of neurological surgery, Dr. Robert Cantu, head of the Department of Neurosurgery and Co-Director Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, Boston University School of Medicine, to form the Sports Legacy Institute.

The mission of the Sports Legacy Institute is to advance the study, treatment and prevention of the effects of brain trauma in athletes and other at-risk groups.

The story that first brought my attention to the concussion crisis was that of ex-Pittsburgh Steeler center and admired tough guy, Mike Webster. Webster probably suffered from the effects of CTE, during the 15 years that he played in the NFL (1974-1988), but little was known by the players and the public about the effects of accumulated concussions at that time. Webster wound up demented and homeless.

However, what did the National Football League know about CTE and when did the NFL know it? And, more importantly, what could have the NFL done to protect the players from the horrific effects of concussion?

(On June 7, 2012) More than 2,000 former NFL players filed a lawsuit this morning in Philadelphia, accusing the league of concealing information linking football-related injuries to long-term brain damage.

In the biggest sports lawsuit ever, the former players allege that the “NFL exacerbated the health risk by promoting the game’s violence” and “deliberately and fraudulently” misled players about the link between concussions and long-term brain injuries.

The NFL denies the claims, saying, “Any allegation that the NFL intentionally sought to mislead players has no merit. It stands in contrast to the league’s many actions to better protect players and advance the science and medical understanding of the management and treatment of concussions.”

But with some of the sport’s household names now revealing the human price paid for all those on-field heroics, this lawsuit could change football forever. Art Monk, Jim McMahon and Mark Rypien are among the players suing not only the NFL but the entire professional football culture.

Attorneys say that even helmet maker Riddell has “a role in this.” And former players say even NFL Films “glorifies football’s violence.”

This lawsuit wound up being settled, but there will be more lawsuits to come.

The settlement comes after more than two months of intense negotiations under the supervision of former United States District Judge Layn Phillips, the court-appointed mediator in this case.

The settlement will be submitted for approval to United States District Judge Anita B. Brody, who has been presiding over the cases in Philadelphia.

“This is a historic agreement, one that will make sure that former NFL players who need and deserve compensation will receive it, and that will promote safety for players at all levels of football,” Judge Phillips said in a statement released Thursday morning by the Alternative Dispute Resolution Center. “Rather than litigate literally thousands of complex individual claims over many years, the parties have reached an agreement that, if approved, will provide relief and support where it is needed at a time when it is most needed. I am deeply grateful to Judge Brody for appointing me as mediator and offering me the opportunity to work on such an important and interesting matter.

Approval of the settlement will require Judge Brody to determine that it is fair, reasonable and adequate in light of the claims and defenses, and the expense, uncertainty and time inherent in litigating the claims, particularly given the benefits provided by the agreement,” Judge Phillips said. “There is no question that this settlement will provide benefits much sooner, and at much less cost, for many more retirees, than would have been achieved through extended litigation. For these and other reasons, I will strongly endorse this settlement in my report to Judge Brody.”

The judges presided over a massive settlement agreement. The NFL and NFL Properties will pay a total of $675 million for injury settlements and medical benefits for retired players, to fund medical and safety research and to pay all litigation expenses

In addition to the monetary relief provided to the players and their families, the NFL and NFL Properties will make the following payments:

• No more than $75 million for baseline medical exams;

• $10 million for a research and education fund;

• No more than $4 million to pay for the costs of notice to the members of the class of plaintiffs;

• $2 million representing one-half of the compensation of the Settlement Administrator; and

• Legal fees and litigation expenses to the plaintiffs’ counsel (to be determined by the court) – estimated $200 million

The National Institute of Health received $30 million in the settlement to fund research into the causes of and possible prevention and treatment of CTE and has a recent breakthrough.

Using a novel technique to peer through the skulls of living mice, researchers at the National Institutes of Health in Maryland are observing concussed brains in real time, transforming ideas of what happens at the molecular level and pointing the way to possible treatment for mild brain trauma.

However, this settlement agreement did not answer the question of whether the NFL executives and owners hid information from the players about the effects of concussions.

In the book and subsequent PBS/ESPN documentary, “League of Denial”, Peabody award-winning ESPN investigative reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru documented how the National Football League executives and owners kept medical information from the players. The Fainarau Brothers write:

““PROFESSIONAL FOOTBALL PLAYERS DO NOT SUSTAIN FREQUENT REPETITIVE BLOWS TO THE BRAIN ON A REGULAR BASIS.”
So concluded the National Football League in a December 2005 scientific paper on concussions in America’s most popular sport. That judgment, implausible even to a casual fan, also contradicted the opinion of a growing cadre of neuroscientists who worked in vain to convince the NFL that it was facing a deadly new scourge: A chronic brain disease that was driving an alarming number of players — including some of the all-time greats — to madness.

League of Denial reveals how the NFL, over a period of nearly two decades, sought to cover up and deny mounting evidence of the connection between football and brain damage.”

The largest non-profit organization in the United States is the National Football League.

It’s hard to make an argument that any business is more successful in America right now than the National Football League.

The Super Bowl is always the most-watched sporting event by a mile, its players own more household-name-status than celebrities and its apparel sells at a relentless rate even when the league is in the offseason. Nearly 30 million people (myself included in two leagues) play fantasy football. Overall, the NFL will take in over $10 billion in revenue this year, and is expected to reach $25 billion within the next 15 years. The TV rights fees alone from CBS, NBC, FOX, and ESPN bring the league $7 billion annually. Needless to say, no other entity comes close in profit or popularity.

Need proof? Just check back on Friday after the league’s draft finishes #1 in cable ratings on Thursday night by a country mile…

What’s very un-American, especially in an administration that always talks about rich folks paying its own share, is the NFL being classified as a non-profit organization. That’s right…tax-exempt. And this wasn’t some evil protect-the-rich plan that happened under a Reagan or Bush administration, but rather Lyndon B. Johnson (D) and a Democratic-controlled Congress.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was paid $44.2 million in salary and bonuses in 2012. He previously was paid $11.5 million in 2011.

  • Why was Goodell’s salary increased by 300% when the NFL had a major lawsuit filed against it?
  • Why was Goodell’s salary increased when he allegedly withheld information about the effects of concussions from the current and ex-players and the NFL Players Association?
  • Perhaps he was trying to protect the interests of the NFL advertisers who pay $858,000 for a 30-second commercial in Sunday Night Football?
  • Or perhaps he was also trying to protect the interests of Riddell, the largest manufacturers of football helmets? Riddell is also being sued for its role in the concussion crisis.

“Riddell is currently being sued by multiple NFL players. More than 125 former NFL players are now suing the league and helmet-maker Riddell for not disclosing and, in some instances, allegedly hiding the risks of repeated head injuries. There are “at least three” personal injury cases pending in California and one more in Pennsylvania.”

Riddell is now a division of Eastern-Bell Sports and had $35.5 million in revenues in 1991. Riddell supplied helmets to the NFL since 1927 .The NFL ended their agreement with Riddell in 2013.

The National Football League makes a tremendous effort to promote its business as wholesome and ethical. The following is from the NFL’s mission statement:

MISSION AND VALUES

To present the National Football League and its teams at a level that attracts the broadest audience and makes NFL football the best sports entertainment in the world.

To achieve our mission, we will constantly challenge ourselves to improve and be guided by these values:

INTEGRITY

We safeguard the integrity of the game.
We are ethical in all of our dealings with fans, clubs, business partners, and each other.
We follow through on our words with action. We are honest and direct.
We create an environment that inspires trust and confidence.

PERFORMANCE AND TEAMWORK

We expect from everyone in our organization the highest level of performance and commitment to our mission and values.
We set the highest standards and challenge ourselves to keep improving.
We are accountable for our results and consistently measure our progress.
We make smart and informed business decisions.
We work together, sharing knowledge, information and other resources to attain the best results.
We focus on organizational objectives, not individual agendas.

Since the NFL took all the time and trouble to develop this mission statement and make it public, does the NFL back up its own words?

The items NFL’s mission statement should have been the screening mechanism for which Roger Goodell should have made decisions in handling of the concussion crisis. The mission statement provides the ethical principles and corporate responsibilities in which the NFL is supposed to use at all times.

However, in reading the items in the statement, many appear to be in potential conflict of Goodell’s stated goal of $27B in 2027.Goodell’s conduct in the CTE lawsuits appear to be in conflict with the ethics, follow through, trust and setting highest standards statements.

In the meantime, there are hundreds, maybe a thousand of ex-NFL players who will spend the rest of their lives in a ball of confusion from playing the ball of concussion.

UPDATED 9/13/2014 – 

Ken Fisher reports in the New York Times:

The National Football League, which for years disputed evidence that its players had a high rate of severe brain damage, has stated in federal court documents that it expects nearly a third of retired players to develop long-term cognitive problems and that the conditions are likely to emerge at “notably younger ages” than in the general population.

The findings are a result of data prepared by actuaries hired by the league and provided to the United States District Court judge presiding over the settlement between the N.F.L. and 5,000 former players who sued the league, alleging that it had hidden the dangers of concussions from them.

“Thus, our assumptions result in prevalence rates by age group that are materially higher than those expected in the general population,” said the report, prepared by the Segal Group for the N.F.L. “Furthermore, the model forecasts that players will develop these diagnoses at notably younger ages than the generation population.”

UPDATED: 3/17/2015:

The San Fransisco 49er’s linebacker, Chris Borland, is one of the few athletes who got out early, instead of too late. Borland had played in the NFL for 1 year before deciding to retire because of concerns about Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy.

Borland said it wasn’t an easy decision, given his success last year.

“I’ve thought about what I could accomplish in football, but for me personally, when you read about Mike Webster and Dave Duerson and Ray Easterling, you read all these stories and to be the type of player I want to be in football, I think I’d have to take on some risks that as a person I don’t want to take on,” Borland said.

Borland said he believed he suffered a concussion in training camp, but he played through it because he wanted to make the team.  As the season progressed, he became more concerned about the issue.

Copyright © February 2015, Michael A. Maynard, Stow, Massachusetts.

Please feel free to leave comments below. Also, if you’ve found this article interesting and informative, please pass it along to others, especially those with a lot of inherent biases.

For more of my articles, visit my WordPress site: mmaynard119.wordpress.com.

 

 

 

 

Columnist/Journalist/Writer/Book Editor Co-Founder/CEO of Azimuth Partners, high tech consulting firm for 30+ years. Former columnist for the Washington Post/Newsweek syndicate.

3 Comment on “Ball Of Concussion – Updated

  1. Pingback: Ball Of Incompetence: Part I – The Mismanagement Of The National Football League | MICHAEL A. MAYNARD

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