SBD/May 4, 2012/Leagues and Governing Bodies

Seau's Family Will Donate His Brain To Science; Calls To Improve Safety In NFL Get Louder

Researchers will examine Seau's brain for chronic traumatic encephalopathy
Chargers Chaplain Shawn Mitchell Thursday said that the family of late NFLer Junior Seau "has decided to allow researchers to study his brain for evidence of damage as the result of concussions," according to Sam Farmer of the L.A. TIMES. Mitchell said the family came to the decision "to help other individuals down the road." Mitchell said that the decision of "who will study the Seau's brain has not been made ... despite speculation researchers at Boston University are the most likely candidates to do so" (L.A. TIMES, 5/4). In N.Y., Michael O'Keeffe reports two research groups -- the Brain Injury Research Institute (BIRI) and Boston University’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy -- made "bids to persuade Seau’s family to donate his brain to them within 24 hours" of his death. O'Keeffe notes it "sounds ghoulish for scientists to vie for a beloved athlete’s brain so soon after his death, but the researchers needed to let the Seau family know of their interest before it makes arrangements for his remains." The stakes "are high: By studying Seau’s gray matter, the researchers could determine if he suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a brain-destroying disease that has been linked to the deaths" of Pro Football HOFer Mike Webster, former NFLer Andre Waters and numerous other athletes. BIRI Dir Dr. Julian Bailes said, "This specimen needs to be examined. It doesn't matter who does it" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 5/4).

PROBLEMS MOUNTING: In St. Louis, Bryan Burwell writes, "America's most popular sport and most violent game has a big problem on its hands. "The studies and lawsuits "are piling up on the NFL's lap," and the conjecture about "head trauma and depression and suicide in football makes this feel like the league has a tragic epidemic on its hands." More than 1,000 former players "are suing the league," and last month former NFLer Lomas Brown filed a suit that "seeks to force the NFL to better educate players on the dangers of traumatic head injuries during the crucial period immediately after the draft." Burwell writes, "Based on what I've seen over the last couple of years, [NFL Commissioner Roger] Goodell's NFL has already begun doing that." The concussion culture "has dramatically changed in terms of diagnosis and treatment." While it will "certainly save a lot of lives of current players, it is too late to save the retired players who continue to suffer" (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 5/4). Former NFLer Coy Wire said, “There’s an evolution going on and we need to raise the cognizance of what’s really happening and the consciousness in our public (about head trauma in football)” (“Showbiz Tonight,” HLN, 5/3).

THE OBVIOUS REASON
: In Buffalo, Jerry Sullivan writes, "We still don't know what could have compelled Seau to take his own life, but you'd have to be ignorant or naive not to suspect that it was somehow related to his 20-year NFL career." It is "about time the league took head injuries seriously, not to mention the difficult transition that players face after leaving the game." Goodell is "cracking down hard on violence, and he should be applauded for it." The culture that "promotes, glorifies and even rewards violent hits on the football field is the culture in which Seau lived and thrived for two decades." It is "not a reach to suggest it had something to do with his premature death" (BUFFALO NEWS, 5/4). In San Jose, Mark Purdy writes, "If you want to say that it's unproven Seau's tragic suicide was the result of football, fine. But after so many recent premature deaths of former NFL players, sadly, the pressure is more on the league to prove otherwise" (SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS, 5/4). In Milwaukee, Michael Hunt writes under the header, "NFL Players' Suicides Raise Troubling Questions." Hunt writes, "Our question should be: When is this going to stop?" (MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL, 5/4). In DC, Deron Snyder wrote three "suicides and a slew of lawsuits in the past 15 months can’t be ignored," but that is "what many NFL players and fans want to do" (WASHINGTON TIMES, 5/3).

A TENUOUS CONNECTION? ESPN's Tony Kornheiser said, “I’m concerned about the automatic connecting of the dots, for example, from Junior Seau to Dave Duerson." Kornheiser: "There (are) a lot of people with emotional problems. ... It’s not necessarily because their brains were affected by a lot of violent hits. But you have to take all that into consideration. If you’re the NFL, you’re scared at this statistic: That suicides among football players are six times the rate of the non-football population” (“PTI,” ESPN, 5/3). In California, Scott Bair notes a "clear connection" between Seau's NFL career and his suicide "could be hard to establish." Seau was "never listed as having a concussion on an official NFL injury report" (NORTH COUNTY TIMES, 5/4). In Jacksonville, Gene Frenette wrote it is "hard to play connect-the-dots of financially punishing a league for every player now suffering from chronic traumatic encephalopathy." It is "not a stretch to think playing football can have long-term effects on the brain." But that is "different from suggesting the NFL purposely concealed information on the long-term effects of concussions, thus putting many retired/deceased players at undue risk of early onset dementia." Frenette wrote, "Football is brutal and takes a heavy toll on its combatants. How could any of them not know the possible heavy price for willingly being a gladiator?" (JACKSONVILLE.com, 5/3).
 
THE NEXT BIG TOBACCO? FOXSPORTS.com's Jen Floyd Engel wrote, "I am not so sure football is not the next tobacco." There is "no entirely safe way to play the game -- not on the level we watch on Sundays -- just like there is no safe amount of cigarette smoking." Engel: "Both smoking and football are dangerous. Only recently have we come to know just how dangerous the football was" (FOXSPORTS.com, 5/3). ESPN’s Dan Le Batard said his initial reaction upon hearing the news of Seau’s suicide was “football killed Junior Seau, and that wouldn’t have been my reaction as recently as a couple of years ago." Le Batard: "I don't see how you can jump to any other conclusion. ... We’re wondering, is football killing its players?” (“Dan Le Batard Is Highly Questionable,” ESPN2, 5/3).
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