Washington Post: “Brain Chaser” Tackles Effects of NFL Hits

There is a fascinating article in Wednesday’s post (oddly enough, it’s Tuesday after 11 p.m. in California but WordPress publishes using Greenwich Mean Time. It’s already Wednesday in Washington.) about a forensic pathologist and neuropathologist who is seeking the brains of former NFL players.

He claims the repeated head-shots NFL players take show up as red streaks on the brain. He has also suggested there is a connection between the red streaks and early onset dementia and depression. Two of his subjects, Pittsburgh Steelers offensive linemen Mike Webster and Terry Long, committed suicide. His third subject, Denver Broncos running back Damien Nash, died Feb. 24 after collapsing following a charity basketball game.

I was diagnosed with a seizure disorder in 1995 and I’m fascinated with neurological disorders. There are a whole host of disorders — epilepsy, Parkinson’s Disease, depression — that are somehow interconnected. It’s encouraging to see someone has taken up the cause of understanding how repeated head injuries affect NFL players.

His is an unpopular undertaking. We Americans idolize our sports heroes but don’t like to think of the toll it takes on their bodies to perform week after week, year after year. Like drug use and criminal records, it’s an aspect of the game we prefer to ignore.

I have to admit that I feel a little guilty with each passing season about the toll the game takes on these athletes. And don’t get me started on my passing interest with boxing. Yes, they are well compensated. Yes, they volunteered for the job. Yes, they live a life of privilege and wealth most of us will never achieve. But are we creating the demand?

The NFL isn’t going to shrivel up and blow away because of Bennett Omalu’s study. But it’s still helpful to evaluate our interests, not just in costs to us, but in what it costs others.

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