I've been following the game of football since I was 7 years old, and it's a sport that brings out more joy and passion in me than just about anything outside of my friends and family.
There's quite nothing like the game of football in my eyes--for my money, it's the best sport in the world--but even the most die-hard and passionate football fan has to be at least a little disturbed by the problems that so many former NFL players have had to deal with due to concussions and repeated head trauma that they suffered during their football careers.
It's an unavoidable topic for sure, as there are currently over 1500 former players suing the NFL over this issue. The number of players alone tells me that it's a very critical issue, and it won't be going away anytime soon.
1500 players is certainly a lot--and I'm sure the actual number of players who have been effected by head-trauma is at least double that--but why aren't the majority of NFL players suffering from these problems after their careers are over?
A knee is a knee, a shoulder is a shoulder, and a back is a back, and they all generally react the same way to similar trauma. Shouldn't that be the case for the brain, as well?
Why do some players like Dave Duerson take their own lives because of the effects of brain trauma that they suffered during their football careers, while other former players seem to live out their lives with very little trouble?
Hall of Fame tight end John Mackey, who played in the 60's and 70's, suffered from dementia in the late stages of his life due to head trauma that he sustained during his NFL career. Why did he meet such a demise, while Mike Ditka, a fellow Hall of Fame tight end who played in the same era as Mackey, is still lucid and coherent enough to cover the game of football for a major network at the age of 72? Did Ditka go his entire career without suffering any concussions? The position of tight end was certainly more physical during the time that Mackey and Ditka played. I'm sure Ditka was exposed to the same kind of physical play that would lead to repeated trauma to the head and brain. What was the difference between the two players careers?
When former Bengals wide receiver Chris Henry tragically died in an accident at the age of 26, his brain was examined, and it was discovered that he had developed chronic traumatic encephalopathy from repeated hard hits to the head. Henry's actions were always a bit erratic, and one could conclude that his behavior could have been attributed to the brain trauma. Fair enough conclusion. But what about former Steelers receiver Lynn Swann? He retired from football at the age of 30 due to repeated concussions that he suffered during his playing days. He's now 60 years old and part owner of the Pittsburgh Power. He also ran for governor in 2006. He shows no outward signs of any sort of behavioral problems, and he's always had a very charismatic personality. What's the difference?
This story illustrates the many problems that former Steelers safety Paul Martha has had to deal with following his NFL career. One of those problems is the effects of the many concussions that he suffered as a player. Steelers defensive coordinator Dick Lebeau, a former defensive back for the Detroit Lions for 14 seasons, played in the same era as Martha, and yet, even at the age of 74, he's still regarded as one of the brightest minds in the game of football. Again, what's the difference?
Why is former running back Tony Dorsett, at age 58, suffering from the concussions that he sustained during his career, while fellow former running backs and contemporaries of his, Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier, are still going strong in their 60's? A running back may take more punishment than any player on the field. Why aren't most former work-horse running backs suffering from the types of problems that Dorsett is today?
Does it have to do with technique? Did some former players just simply spend their entire careers using improper techniques that exposed their heads to unnecessary repeated trauma?
In this America's Game presentation, former 49ers fullback Tom Rathman discusses his blocking style, and how he would aim with his forehead. Isn't that the wrong way to block? Or is it simply unavoidable?
Does it have to do with poor equipment or players not using the required equipment that would better protect them?
OJ Simpson never liked to wear knee or thigh pads, and I've heard it said a time or two that he was so self-conscious about the size of his head, he even took the padding out of his helmet. Could some of Simpson's violent and erratic behavior away from the football field at least partially be attributed to repeated head trauma during his playing career and not wearing the equipment that would have protected him better?
I obviously don't have a medical background, and I certainly can't answer any of these questions that I posed today.
Hopefully, in the very near future, enough of these questions will get answered by the right people, the NFL will continue to try and make the game safer, and the number of players who suffer from abnormal brain function in their post-playing days will decrease significantly.
For a fan like me, who would like to keep the same level of passion about his favorite sport, I sure hope someone finds the right answers before it's too late.