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'Cause It's Known to Give a Brother Brain Damage
June 28, 2010 12:40 PM   Subscribe

Chris Henry, the Cincinnati Bengals player who died last December, was found to have suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), almost certainly as a result of his football career. Many other deceased NFL players are known to have suffered from CTE, but Henry was the youngest diagnosed thus far. Henry was infamous while alive for his repeated legal troubles and erratic behavior, and other notable NFL concussion victims, such as Ben Roethlisberger, may also be exhibiting symptoms of CTE. This news will only increase scrutiny of the NFL's much-criticized concussion policy, although the problem is not limited to football players. (Previously)
posted by Copronymus (35 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
That Gladwell article prompted a discussion between my neighbor and his son that resulted in the son choosing to stop playing high school football. The son had already had a concussion that resulted in him being pulled from a game, and at the time, his father thought he should "tough it out." After reading the New Yorker piece, the dad apologized and urged his son to think of his long-term health.
posted by tizzie at 1:04 PM on June 28, 2010 [8 favorites]


I can't help but be amused that the Gladwell article represented the tipping point in the NFL concussion issue, which has been slowly brewing for several years.
posted by nathancaswell at 1:06 PM on June 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


I was thinking about this other day and one solution could be to redesign the helmets so they are attached to the shoulder pads, so that impacts don't jostle your head at all. It would make football players look even more like Astronauts, though. Or it could just be a giant, super-villan-esq dome.

Googling around I found this patent for something like that (it includes a diagram, so you can see how it attaches, a little different then what I was thinking but kind of smart)

Can you still get concussions from impacts even if you head doesn't receive any of the force? The goal should be a design that reroutes all of the impact past the head onto the rest of the body.
posted by delmoi at 1:07 PM on June 28, 2010


> I was thinking about this other day and one solution could be to redesign the helmets so they are attached to the shoulder pads,

That might be safer, but football players tend to need to turn their heads.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:19 PM on June 28, 2010


but football players tend to need to turn their heads
...which is allowed for in the linked patent. RTFA.
posted by MrMoonPie at 1:27 PM on June 28, 2010


> ...which is allowed for in the linked patent. RTFA.

I did, angryguy. You can't turn your and raise head in that thing like you can with a free helmet, nor with any quickness.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:28 PM on June 28, 2010


It's this growing awareness that has made me conclude that my son (should I ever have one) will be discouraged from playing football.
posted by oddman at 1:30 PM on June 28, 2010


Can you still get concussions from impacts even if you head doesn't receive any of the force?

If your brain rattling around inside your head so much it starts bouncing off bone (the inside of your skull). Any impact that stops or accelerates you enough to stop the fluid your brain sits in from doing its job (stopping that happening) is going to have the potential to cause damage. So a hard tackle that results in a rapid change of direction could, yeah, cause damage without your head ever hitting the other player or the ground.

Rugby union has mandatory stand-downs from concussions here in New Zealand, precisely because teams, team doctors, and players can't be trusted to put the player's long-term health first.
posted by rodgerd at 1:39 PM on June 28, 2010


The problem is that the helmet causes you to believe you're safer than you are and therefore to use your head MORE as a battering ram than if you had no helmet at all. I'm not sure a new helmet will solve this, sadly.
posted by basicchannel at 1:50 PM on June 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


Roll cages around each of the players, then.
posted by Space Coyote at 1:53 PM on June 28, 2010


Roll cages around each of the players, then.

I am 100% for any rule changes that make football more like American Gladiators events.

Or anything more like American Gladiators events.
posted by Copronymus at 2:01 PM on June 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


This is sad yet obvious news. I am a huge football fan, and I simply cannot understand why the NFL is dragging it's feet in mandating the new concussion-resistant helmets. Hopefully this can be a catalyst.
posted by gnutron at 2:09 PM on June 28, 2010


I think they should go back to the old leather helmets.
posted by cell divide at 2:14 PM on June 28, 2010


I think they should go back to the old leather helmets.
posted by cell divide at 2:14 PM on June 28 [+] [!]


There is a belief (such as is shared by, I believe, Australian Rules Football organizations) that LESS helmet means MORE self-awareness of potential head injury thus preventing CTE/concussions. This is, obviously, a belief and I'm not sure if it's backed-up with any real science.
posted by basicchannel at 2:20 PM on June 28, 2010


@basicchannel, yes I have heard the same thing and wanted to post something about that but a quick google didn't turn up any actual proof. The games are played quite differently too so it's an apples to oranges comparison at best.
posted by cell divide at 2:21 PM on June 28, 2010


some of the things i've been reading today say that if his erratic behavior was linked to CTE, than his injuries far pre-date his NFL career. i know it's important to approach this problem from the NFL side because they influence the way that college and high school ball are played - but, i think it was ESPN that was saying that they can't find evidence of of the type of hits you'd have to take for this kind of brain injury in his 55 pro games.
posted by nadawi at 2:30 PM on June 28, 2010


The crazy thing is Henry was a WR. Now being a WR you do get put in positions where you're going to be defenseless as you take a big hit (although Henry was a speed receiver, meaning he did most of his work outside the hashes rather than working over the middle where you tend to get clocked) but still... you have to kind of assume that WRs are going to have way fewer big collisions then, say, a linebacker, who is attempting to line someone up, get a running start, and drill them on nearly every play.
posted by nathancaswell at 2:35 PM on June 28, 2010


some of the things i've been reading today say that if his erratic behavior was linked to CTE, than his injuries far pre-date his NFL career. i know it's important to approach this problem from the NFL side because they influence the way that college and high school ball are played - but, i think it was ESPN that was saying that they can't find evidence of of the type of hits you'd have to take for this kind of brain injury in his 55 pro games.

I remember reading back when the Gladwell article came out that because some of the worst damage is done by frequent low-level concussive events, practices can be just as bad if not worse than actual games.

I also have no doubt that these players' brains are in bad shape well before they get to the NFL. Kids who play football are hitting their heads nearly as hard, and there are even fewer restrictions on coaches at those levels. The same thing happens to pitchers, where you hear about high schoolers throwing 175 pitches because the coach doesn't believe in arm injuries or some nonsense.
posted by Copronymus at 2:36 PM on June 28, 2010


have been following this debate with great interest, as I'm both a football fan and someone who enjoys good science writing. I saw my first ever concussion PSA this year.
I even wangled a way to write about it for a women's health blog, because so many women have been the ones advocating changes.

It's changed how I love watching football. I feel guilty every time I see a tackle and cheer. So I make sure I read every new article that comes out about CTE and the NFL. If I love football, I better not be ignoring I don't know how football can change to protect both the players and fans' experience.
Because the reasoning behind the foot dragging can't be coming from a lack of science. It's out there. I think what's holding it up is the equations of investment and sponsorship and fan base- they're afraid of losing fans' money over big changes, I think.
posted by SaharaRose at 2:38 PM on June 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


When I was a junior in high school, I played on a team that was limited in numbers (we suited up students who weren't even on the team just so we would be allowed to field a team -- I know we started one game with fourteen actual players). As such, I played pretty much every down (all special teams, etc.). At some point in our first game of the season, I suffered a concussion one way or another. I think it was a knee to the helmet, but I'm not really sure. I am pretty sure it happened in the first quarter. I never came off the field. At halftime, I asked someone in the locker room what the score was. That person told me it was 35-0. I apparently thought it was 7-0. They took me to the hospital. When I watched the game film the next week, I only recognized part of the first quarter. I had no memory of the rest of the first half.

Anyway, that was a Friday game. I was playing full contact at practice on Monday and I played the rest of the year. The only time I missed from that concussion was the second half of that game.

When I was around eight or so, I fell out of a tree and was knocked unconscious. My dad came (I was about six hundred yards from home) and carried me home. He laid me on the couch until I woke up. I never saw a doctor.

Times have changed.
posted by flarbuse at 2:38 PM on June 28, 2010


Consider the concussion that ended Steve Young's career, from a hit by Aeneas Williams.

As I recall, Williams didn't hit him anywhere near the head, and Young was out before he hit the ground-- which would imply an acceleration/deceleration injury.

I don't see why accelerometers (fixed to the head rather than the main body of the helmet) aren't standard parts of football helmets at high school, college, and pro levels.
posted by jamjam at 2:42 PM on June 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


and there are even fewer restrictions on coaches at those levels

yeah, i guess this was my point - taking the NFL to task certainly makes sense, but sometimes it feels like they get the brunt of the attention because they're the money makers. if you want to see some brutal coaching that's too focused on the win and champions a walk it off attitude, come to texas high school games. it would be more damning of the entire sport if Henry came into the NFL already brain damaged. it'd show that the NFL cleaning up their act isn't enough to keep these guys safe.
posted by nadawi at 2:46 PM on June 28, 2010


My uncle said that growing up in the 50's it was an unspoken rule that the trainer would always hold up 3 fingers when asking you "how many fingers" after a bad blow. If you replied anything other than 3 you were off the team. Everyone always replied "3." The trainer also had a bag full of morphine syringes in case you were in pain.
posted by nestor_makhno at 2:51 PM on June 28, 2010


Henry was infamous while alive for his repeated legal troubles and erratic behavior...

Tim Riggins' behaviour is making a lot more sense in light of this.
posted by tim_in_oz at 3:01 PM on June 28, 2010


When I went to UCLA Football's Spring Game this year I noticed they were using accelerometers, although only on a few players and not for the entirety of the game (warning: self-linkage):

http://www.flickr.com/photos/ryanheard/4550432876/in/set-72157623926398072/

(Player on the right).
posted by basicchannel at 3:51 PM on June 28, 2010


[added link to NYT article per OPs request]
posted by jessamyn at 3:55 PM on June 28, 2010


It happens in college women's basketball, too. One of many reasons LaVonda Wagner was finally fired as head coach at Oregon State University involved a player with a concussion.

... During a team workout on campus in June 2009, [Kassandra] McAlister was knocked in the head and, at the urging of [Mary Mayfield} her mother, eventually went to the emergency room after she started to experience headaches and nausea. Mayfield says that doctors diagnosed McAlister with a concussion. Athletic department policy requires players with concussions to have no physical activity for at least a week, followed by one day with no symptoms. Mayfield says Wagner knew her daughter's diagnosis but still chastised McAlister for going to the ER and downplayed the injury as "a bump on the head." ...
posted by Carol Anne at 4:02 PM on June 28, 2010


After years of being a football fan (even played way back in high school, some years ago) I completely lost interest. Why? The game has become more and more about the big hit, with drooling cretin, ex-jock announcers pushing the violence on football fans with their ignorant, testosterone driven commentary. When you think about it, football is a very demanding game at that level, and the level of athleticism is simply amazing. That said, it's all wasted on a "sport" that has become little more than a mugging contest.

I long for the days of Howard Cosell and Heywood Hale Broun. At least they reported the game with class and intelligence. Football is one big bore; it honors violence more than the essential skill it takes to play the sport, and I hope it fades away and dies. It's a lot like boxing, where there is some semblance of sport, but the ultimate aim is to annihilate your opponent.

I used to work out at a club that was frequented by the (original) Baltimore Colts and the Washington Redskins. I befriended some of those guys and got to go mano-a-mano in various off-field athletic contests with some of them. Let me close by saying that there is no way that any brain can take the constant pounding delivered by the g-forces generated by those guys. They are lightening fast, big, unbelievably strong, and driven to put their opponent down!.

I'm delighted to see this evidence coming forward.
posted by Vibrissae at 5:10 PM on June 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Tim Riggins' behaviour is making a lot more sense in light of this

And Jim Brown, too. Brown had tons of trouble with physically abusing women. One wonders how much brain damage he must have sustained in his sometimes 2-3 dozen carries per game.
posted by Vibrissae at 5:13 PM on June 28, 2010


I find it absolutely impossible to believe that giant men who run into each other at a force equivalent to the impact of a car crash a few dozen time for a few months out of the year could possibly have any brain damage from it.

Science schmience, I say.
posted by elder18 at 6:01 PM on June 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't see why accelerometers (fixed to the head rather than the main body of the helmet) aren't standard parts of football helmets at high school, college, and pro levels.

The mentality is changing, albeit slowly, among the players (look how Brian Westbrook handled his concussions last year) and the coaching staffs are gradually adjusting, but I think the reason we don't see something like accelerometers (which is a good idea) is that franchises don't want to deal what they'd find. Look what happened in the Mike Leach case. And that's college. If you started affixing accelerometers to NFL players I bet you'd find that half of your team is sustaining minor concussions on a weekly basis. These are billion dollar businesses we're talking about.
posted by nathancaswell at 7:30 PM on June 28, 2010


Would the goal of accelerometers be that when a player reached a certain number they were taken off the field? It seems (to the uneducated) that it would just record what had happened and not prevent it.
posted by stoneweaver at 9:00 PM on June 28, 2010


Would the goal of accelerometers be that when a player reached a certain number they were taken off the field? It seems (to the uneducated) that it would just record what had happened and not prevent it.

From what I understand concussions do the most damage when they're consecutive. Multiple concussions have ended the careers of many NFL players (Aikman, Young, etc). They are also difficult to diagnose if the player is uncooperative. The mentality up to now has been to "tough it out" or "shake out the cobwebs" and get back on the field. This is especially a problem among role players or special team players who feel that missed time is going to cost them a roster spot.

Having conclusive acceleration data that shows a player has received brain trauma is would enable a rule that if a player suffers a brain trauma he has to sit a certain number of weeks. The goal should be to eliminate or absolutely minimize the risk of these traumas, but it would be a start.
posted by nathancaswell at 9:07 PM on June 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


It should also be noted that players fear being labelled as concussion prone and it shortening their careers. Objective data and beefier concussion rules would remove the decision from their hands. Although I do believe players are beginning to realize the gravity of the situation.
posted by nathancaswell at 9:13 PM on June 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Thanks for the thorough answer! That makes a lot of sense.
posted by stoneweaver at 12:54 PM on June 29, 2010


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