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Junior Seau on the sidelines as a member of the New England Patriots
It's starting to feel like a sad routine—the confirmation, after the suicide or early death of another football player, that he had chronic brain damage. Junior Seau, who played for the San Diego Chargers, the Miami Dolphins, and the New England Patriots, is the latest. Seau shot himself in the chest in May, allowing his brain to be studied.
Seau's ex-wife, Gina, and his oldest son Tyler, 23, told ABC News and ESPN in an exclusive interview they were informed last week that Seau's brain had tested positive for chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a neurodegenerative disease that can lead to dementia, memory loss and depression.

"I think it's important for everyone to know that Junior did indeed suffer from CTE," Gina Seau said. "It's important that we take steps to help these players. We certainly don't want to see anything like this happen again to any of our athletes."

She said the family was told that Seau's disease resulted from "a lot of head-to-head collisions over the course of 20 years of playing in the NFL. And that it gradually, you know, developed the deterioration of his brain and his ability to think logically."

The diagnosis was reached by three independent neuropathologists who were given three brains to examine in a blind study. All three, plus two government researchers, found CTE. According to ESPN, Seau's teams never in the course of his long career described him as having a concussion; until recently, though, the NFL was less than scrupulous about such diagnoses. Additionally, brain damage can accrue through routine hits that don't cause concussions. And of course, coaches, players, and the entire football culture at all levels is implicated in a "being a man means denying you're hurt" ethos.

Thousands of former players are suing the NFL for denying the link between football and brain damage after the discovery of solid evidence linking the two. These players and their loved ones face changed personalities and shortened lives and it's something the sport—led by its leading employer, the NFL—has yet to fully reckon with despite changes that have been made in recent seasons.

Originally posted to Daily Kos Labor on Thu Jan 10, 2013 at 08:36 AM PST.

Also republished by In Support of Labor and Unions and Daily Kos.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Maybe one of the most important part of this (9+ / 0-)

    conclusion, is that Seau essentially suffered from brain damaging "post-concussion syndrome" without having suffered diagnosed concussions. I watched him play almost every game of his professional career. He never, in my recollection, missed or even left a game because he got his bell rung. Yet the 25 or more years of repeated blows showed their effects. It wasn't that doctors or trainers let him play when they shouldn't have. Unless he hid it, he had no symptoms while he played.

  •  Seau was one of my favorite players (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Forward is D not R

    of all time. He deserved better.

    ¡Cállate o despertarás la izquierda! - protest sign in Spain

    by gjohnsit on Thu Jan 10, 2013 at 09:02:43 AM PST

  •  Football is a collision sport. Unless the sport (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    is banned completely, along with Rugby and all other collision sports, cumlutive  brain injuries will always be part of the picture.  Physics is physics.  

    We either stop the action that causes these types of injuries or accept that some of the paticapants will suffer.  I'm glad I don't have to make that call.

    "A different world cannot be built by indifferent people." Anon from a fortune cookie I got.

    by coloradocomet on Thu Jan 10, 2013 at 09:16:12 AM PST

    •  I disagree (6+ / 0-)

      Rugby, Australian rules football and soccer (the original football) are all played without helmets.

      Ironically, I think it is the helmets which are meant to protect the head from injury which is the problem.

      Wearing helmets allow the players to play with much more abandon than they would if they were playing without them and this results in more violent collisions.

      •  Aussie Rules Football is insane!! (2+ / 0-)

        And yet, the injuries and collisions never seem to reach what we see in the nfl....and yes, this is because of the helmets.  Why in the effing hell they ever made nfl helmets hard on the outside is absolutely ridiculous!

        Buy Aldus Shrugged : The Antidote to Ayn Rand, and tear Ayn and the GOP new orifices. ALL ROYALTIES BETWEEN NOW AND JANUARY 31, DONATED TO THIS SITE, DAILYKOS!! @floydbluealdus1

        by Floyd Blue on Thu Jan 10, 2013 at 09:50:12 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  Shoulder tackling is a lost art (5+ / 0-)

        I'm old enough to have played my HS football under a coach who would consistently punish for leading with the helmet. I tried leading with my helmet once. Once was all it took for me to appreciate his wisdom. That and the 400 yard crab walk after practice.

        When you are right you cannot be too radical; when you are wrong, you cannot be too conservative. --Martin Luther King Jr.

        by Egalitare on Thu Jan 10, 2013 at 10:30:58 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  It's more complicated than that... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Ginny in CO

        The games are very different.  The big difference is that neither Aussie rules football or Rugby allow blocking.  Most of these head hits (especially near the line of scrimmage) are the results of blocks, not tackles.  Tackling in both Aussie rules and rugby is "softer".  There is no such thing as forward progress in Rugby, and the ball is "fumbled" after every play, so there is no incentive for a hard hit.  the ball "falls out" at first contact.  

        You can't compare Rugby to American football, because they are two very different sports.  By its nature, American football is rougher on the head.  In fact, there are studies dating back to the 1920's and leather helmets stating the same opinions we are seeing here.


        by LordMike on Thu Jan 10, 2013 at 11:55:47 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  This makes complete sense. (0+ / 0-)

          Both as a critical care nurse and from personal experience, the important factor in these injuries is basic physics. Whether it is a whiplash, fall, sports play or the explosive wave from an IED, the soft tissue of the brain is forced, within the hard skull, to keep moving in the direction of the external force. When the skull stops moving, the brain tissue is stopped by internal impact.

          Problem:  The laws of physics don't stop there. The soft brain tissue is then thrown in the opposite direction - where it is stopped by the hard skull on the other side of the head. Second injury is not usually as bad as the first, but it is an injury and, like the cumulative effect of the initial ones, they add up over time.

          This is yet another reason to change our K -12 PE programs to focus on personal fitness rather than competitive sports. Fewer than 4 % of adults maintain fitness with competitive sports (even if they are just playing) after graduating from high school. I have not seen any stats on the number and severity of injuries among those people.

          The best example of this is the now 2 decades old PE program started by a really forward thinking coach at Naperville IL high school. It is presented by John Ratey MD in Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain. He goes on to explain the considerable new testing stats that support the Greek premise that a fit mind requires a fit body - which created the Olympics.

          What is really shocking about the effects of the program? Not the districts' 3% obesity rate, the significant improvements in individual and district scholastic performance - those would be expected. What happens when you diminish the emphasis on competitive sports? Less violence - especially in inner city schools (KC), less bullying and stronger community ties; even in financially depressed towns (PA). If Columbine, Steubenville and other ugly events and cultural practices in our country haven't come to mind, think further.

          "People, even more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed and redeemed; never throw out anyone. " Audrey Hepburn "A Beautiful Woman"

          by Ginny in CO on Thu Jan 10, 2013 at 01:57:06 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

      •  Agree with you. It is not the helmets per se, (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Ottawa Guy, LordMike, kyril

        but the coaching of people to use the helmets as weapons. When I played (not long and not too well) we were coached to wrap up people with our arms. Head to head hits or head to body hits (spearing) were not allowed.

        BTW even though rugby is played w/o helmets, players are penalized for tackles above the neck and for spearing. Because there are no helmets there is little incentive for head to head attacks. The penalty systems are interesting too in that in addition to the loss of possession, players go to a tribunal for major violations. They can then and often do receive fines and multiple week suspensions. Much of the same applies to Aussie rules which while a faster game than American football also has pretty tight controls over contact. There is of course a lot, but anything egregious is penalized on the spot.

        If... the machine of government... is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then, I say, break the law. ~Henry David Thoreau, On the Duty of Civil Disobediance, 1849

        by shigeru on Fri Jan 11, 2013 at 07:53:34 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  One of my former Eagles, Andre Waters.... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    varro, LordMike

    may he rest in (finally) peace, killed himself in the last few years with a gunshot to the head.  He suffered massive depression from his career hits to the head.  He was undersized and a very hard hitter:  most saw him as a dirty player, and he even reveled in the nickname "dirty waters".

    But those hits WITH his head took their toll.

    Note that the damage came from hits WITH his head, as opposed to TO his head.

    The nfl helmet is hard plastic.  Why it is not pillow-soft on the outside makes zero sense!

    Buy Aldus Shrugged : The Antidote to Ayn Rand, and tear Ayn and the GOP new orifices. ALL ROYALTIES BETWEEN NOW AND JANUARY 31, DONATED TO THIS SITE, DAILYKOS!! @floydbluealdus1

    by Floyd Blue on Thu Jan 10, 2013 at 09:53:00 AM PST

    •  And that the majority of these injuries... (0+ / 0-)

      ....are to linebackers and safeties - players whose job is to get up speed to tackle, as opposed to other positions, whose play is different.

      I would suggest eliminating the plastic shell for something like Kevlar (as long as you can attach a face mask to it), and make leading with the head a 25-yard penalty or even a "palpably unfair act" leading to ejection.

      9-11 changed everything? Well, Katrina changed it back.

      by varro on Thu Jan 10, 2013 at 11:57:53 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  It's not soft on the outside.... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Cassandra Waites

      ...because that would allow it to "catch" on something instead of slide freely when hit, redirecting the force away from the helmet.  That was the whole point of the plastic helmet... all blows to it were supposed to be "glancing", since it's slick and hard surface would deflect much of the force coming into contact with it (at least from the side or an angle--head on would be a different story).

      At the time, it was considered to be a significant improvement over leather helmets, which afforded very little protection other than cuts or bruises to the scalp.

      Of course, once you had something like that on your head, you felt more invincible.  A big change came with facemasks, which now protected your face if you wanted to go head first, which players did.


      by LordMike on Thu Jan 10, 2013 at 12:01:06 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I think they're going to have to go the SCA route (0+ / 0-)

        Way back when it first began, the SCA tried plastic football helmets. They failed basic safety tests and were banned. (And the SCA wasn't hitting that hared back then!)

        They almost immediately went over to rolled steel (and gradually raised the minimum required thickness to 16-gauge, heavily padded on the inside. And all armor, including helmets, is inspected every time to make sure it still meets the requirements!

        IMHO it's way past time for "American football" tot ake a leaf or three from the SCA Marshals' Handbook.

        If it's
        Not your body,
        Then it's
        Not your choice
        And it's
        None of your damn business!

        by TheOtherMaven on Sat Jan 12, 2013 at 09:34:47 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  It is a lab-tested fact: (0+ / 0-)

    nfl plastic thigh pads can withstand a sledgehammer without degrading.  However, a hit in an actual game from a linebacker has been known to turn the concave pad inside out.
    (Meanwhile, most nfl players forego the thigh pad anyway, and the hip pad, and their shoulder pads are about the size of a classic hollywood actress' shoulder pads!

    But that is beside the point.  The point is that a linebacker can hit that hard, AND wears a weapon on his head!!

    Buy Aldus Shrugged : The Antidote to Ayn Rand, and tear Ayn and the GOP new orifices. ALL ROYALTIES BETWEEN NOW AND JANUARY 31, DONATED TO THIS SITE, DAILYKOS!! @floydbluealdus1

    by Floyd Blue on Thu Jan 10, 2013 at 09:55:41 AM PST

  •  The NFL is the Scapegoat here (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Seau played football in High School and college.  It's the game, not the NFL that is or is not the problem.  Certainly as much as can be done should be done and more information is better than less, but ultimately the players make the choice to play or not.

  •  This scares the crap out of me. (6+ / 0-)

    My son is 14 and has been playing on the offensive line for the last seven years. Every year, by the end of the season the front of his helmet is cometely gouged up and all of the paint is worn away. I think it's time to steer away from football. It's going to be tough for him to walk away - particulalry because he worked his ass off to win a starting job during his first high school season, but let's face it: it's just a game and it's not worth his brain.

    •  Football is child abuse (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      denise b, kyril, Bubbatoby, WakeUpNeo

      The frequent injuries, some leading to long term disability, make playing football an unsafe occupation. That has been known for decades. What's new is information about repeated concussions leading to brain damage and dementia. There is no practical way to make football safe for participants.

      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. link
      For those over 18, it's an unsafe occupation. Make it subject to OSHA.
  •  been there, seen that (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cocinero, kyril
    chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a neurodegenerative disease that can lead to dementia, memory loss and depression.

    Warning - some snark above‽ (-9.50; -7.03)‽ “If someone has a tool and is trying to negate your existence it would be reasonable to reciprocate in kind with your own tool.” - Dalai Lama XIV (sic)

    by annieli on Fri Jan 11, 2013 at 07:54:32 PM PST

  •  I watch football. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cocinero, kyril, Renie57

    Once in a while, I will watch a game with the sound off. And you really notice just what a stupid game it is. And how ignorant so many players are. The average NFL career is under five years. Yet these guys are going after each others' brains. And, of course, the owners love it.

    The players' union should wake the fuck up. These guys need to protect one another, not destroy one another.

    It's truly a sad, perverse spectacle.

    I should quit watching football. Maybe I will. No NFL this weekend.

  •  If This is True of Football (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    LordMike, kyril, Lily O Lady

    Why the fuck is boxing still legal?

    This aggression will not stand, man.

    by kaleidescope on Fri Jan 11, 2013 at 08:14:53 PM PST

  •  I don't really watch football anymore (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    kyril, WakeUpNeo

    My father had polio -- he learned to walk again, but sometimes his legs just gave out. There were 4-5 concussions I know of, and numerous other minor traumas. Watching how he deteriorated -- no, I don't watch football anymore.

    Conservatives believe evil comes from violating rules. Liberals believe evil comes from violating each other.

    by tcorse on Fri Jan 11, 2013 at 08:20:07 PM PST

  •  Football's in trouble... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Just look at skotrussell's post above.  If more and more parents start feeling that way about their kids playing, then football is in trouble long term.  

    I don't know how you fix it.  People talk about rugby and other "football" sports, but they are very different from the American game.  I don't think you CAN fix it without making the game so lame that no one will watch anymore.  You'd have to get rid of the 3 point stance, shoulder blocking, hard tackling.  The NFL is already thinking about getting rid of kickoffs.  Helmets and padding would have to be modified again.  Weight limits would have to be instituted.  Maybe get rid of tackling below the waist, or even tackling all together.  The game would become unrecognizable.

    The last radical change to the game came during the Teddy Roosevelt period from 1906-1912.  The 1912 modifications finalized 90% of the rules we have today.  Prior to that, the game would have been unrecognizable to the modern fan.  Take a look at some of these plays from an 1890's book on football:

    They are unrecognizable today... All of them would be blatant and massive violations of current rules.  No one has seen plays like that for over 100 years.

    History shows that massive changes to the game are possible without destroying its popularity.  It's happened once before.  I don't know if it can happen again.  People really like the hard hits of football.  It's the biggest driver of its popularity.  It's hard to imagine the game without it, and yet it may become necessary.


    by LordMike on Fri Jan 11, 2013 at 08:39:06 PM PST

  •  No shit (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    denise b, kyril, Renie57

    I played football as a kid.  If you don't know that playing too much over your life is going to cause you brain damage, you already have it.

    Mount this one up on Captain Fucking Obvious'  wall. But ya  the NFL should obviously  stop denying this.

  •  Perhaps that is why I stil have (0+ / 0-)

    my wits, and all of my three sons have theirs, as well.

    I remember my father telling me that I should be a football player, when I was around four or so.  I replied, "Daddy, you can get hurt BAD doing that!"

    He envied my shapely legs that probably have made a good kicker out of me, and to endear him with Frank Broyles, then the head coach at The University of Arkansas.

    Warmest regards,


    I would rather die from the acute effects of a broken heart than from the chronic effects of an empty heart. Copyright, Dr. David W. Smith, 2011

    by Translator on Sat Jan 12, 2013 at 12:55:29 AM PST

  •  They could also sue (0+ / 0-)

    their Pop Warner league, high schools & colleges.  I played in a band with a guitarist who picked up the instrument after he broke his hose in high school football & was ordered off the team by his mom. A lot of professional football players saw the old retired players hobbling around on canes & talking like punch drunk boxers. But wave million dollar contracts  under  their noses & they signed on the dotted lines.

    "There ain't no sanity clause." Chico Marx

    by DJ Rix on Sat Jan 12, 2013 at 01:51:40 AM PST

  •  I loved Seau and I love football, but (0+ / 0-)

    when players strap on the helmet, they do it knowing there are serious risks to their long term health (a player died in an Arena Football League game a few years back), just like race car drivers and skydivers.  

    Nobody forces anyone to skydive, race cars, or play football.

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