I didn’t want to believe it, but it doesn’t surprise me.
When news of Junior Seau’s death hit the airwaves, it was the only thing anyone could think: had Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, the illness now known to be caused by repeated trauma to the brain, claimed the life of another career football player?
The evidence seemed to both suggest it and, at the same time, point to something else. Sure, Seau must’ve suffered numerous concussions during his career, but there was never any symptoms of CTE, at least not publicly. He seemed every bit as mentally sharp and upbeat as any person around.
But then there was the suicide. He didn’t just kill himself, he shot himself in the chest, the same way ex-Chicago Bear Dave Duerson did as he asked for his brain to be examined for CTE. If there was another explanation as to why Seau did the same thing, it wasn’t immediately obvious.
Seau’s family, like Duerson’s, did allow for his brain to be studied and now they’ve told ABC/ESPN that they were informed last week that the examination showed Seau had CTE.
At the time of his death, I made the point that there was no evidence that Seau did, in fact, have CTE. I wasn’t trying to deny the possibility, I was simply pointing out that we need not jump to conclusions.
Now, however, the time has come to start doing just that.
CTE has been discovered in college football players, and not just the crack-back, superstar kind. If it’s possible for a kid who’s played less than four years of school football, it practically seems likely that a man with such a long NFL career suffered from the same illness.
If you’ve taken yourself to school on the disease a little bit, you know that it doesn’t necessarily take a neurologist to see when a brain is riddled with CTE. Where a brain should be a creamy white, one affected by CTE is stained brown by tau protein, like a shirt after a long day of yard work.
But even more apparent is the need to do something about this. Now more than ever.
In the grand scheme of things, our understanding of physically-sustained brain trauma is in its infancy. For instance, we really don’t even have a way to diagnose it accept posthumously.
The one thing we do know, however, is how it occurs. And a concussion is the smoking gun.
We need to rethink the way we handle concussions. A broken nose, a torn ACL, that all can be fixed. Brain damage is irreparable. And it’s a hell of a lot more prevalent.
And since there is no cure, we can only prevent. Well what’s the key to prevention? Information.
Concussions aren’t an NFL problem, football is just what’s currently in the spotlight. Brain trauma occurs in EVERY sport.
It’s not just hockey or football. It’s soccer and basketball. It’s lacrosse and field hockey. Any place where your head is in a position to come to an abrupt stop or hit something with a substantial amount of force is not only a place where a concussion CAN occur, but where they DO occur.
Also, there’s recently been evidence to suggest that it takes women longer to recover from concussions than men. And there’s no acceptable number of concussions before CTE forms. It can and does begin from the very first time your brain is rocked against the skull.
This all is just a very rudimentary outlook at where we’re at. Yet, I probably just told you at least one thing you didn’t know. That’s how sparse the dissemination of information has been on the matter.
I have an idea: let’s rethink the way we raise and groom athletes. We can’t take away risk, but we can place the choices in the hands of those who assume it. If a boy or girl wants to play high school sports, let them, but let’s sit them down first and thoroughly explain the dangers of head trauma.
This isn’t about scaring people away from contact sports. You can become a professional athlete, have a long career, and enjoy a healthy retirement (Or, at least as healthy as a normal, older person can expect to be). But, as some NFL veterans have displayed, you can also end up being unable to iterate the months of the year in chronological order or remember what you were talking about AS you talk about it. It’s just about putting this information in the right people’s hands.
I’m not going to sit here and pretend to tell people what they should or shouldn’t do. Serving in the military or peace corps. is an honorable thing, there’s no doubt about that, but it also puts your life in significant danger. Does that mean people shouldn’t do it? Absolutely not, but they should be aware of all the risks that are out there.
The risks, like a brain battered with Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, are plain to see. They are so apparent, in fact, that ignoring them doesn’t just seem reckless but immoral.
Maybe it’s about time for the people that are putting athlete’s heads in danger to start thinking straight. Because, if they don’t, those they look over may just lose that ability altogether.
NOTE: This story was originally published on SportsHead. To read this article and others click here.
When Bryan isn’t writing, he is on Twitter! Make sure to give him a follow @bclienesch for NFL updates and other shenanigans!