The National Football League has some soul searching to do following the death of former All-Pro linebacker Junior Seau this week. Seau died from a self-inflicted gun shot wound this week at his home in San Diego, he was 43 years old. Yesterday, Seau’s family decided to allow scientists to study his brain for signs of damage from concussions suffered in his twenty-year NFL career. San Diego Chargers team chaplain Shawn Mitchell told the Los Angeles Times, “The family was considering this almost from the very beginning, but they didn’t want to make any emotional decisions. And when they came to a joint decision that absolutely this was the best thing, it was a natural occurrence for the Seau family to go forward.”
Though it could take months, I am convinced the results of the autopsy and other studies of Seau’s brain will find significant damage due to concussions. Forensic pathologist Bennett Omalu took part in the autopsy, and his involvement could help determine whether the future Hall of Famer’s suicide could be related to the growing link between football and concussions. Omalu, the chief medical officer for San Joaquin County in California, identified Cronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). It’s a neurological disorder caused by repeated head trauma found in several deceased NFL players. CTE often leads to erratic and sometimes bizarre behavior, also associated with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
The soul searching the NFL must do is now underway. Even before Seau’s death, coaches and players alike involved in the infamous “head hunter bounty” scandal on the New Orleans Saints squad have been suspended, some for an entire season. That is a very small step in a long, long journey the league must venture on, to protect its players. Lawsuits are becoming more and more common as former players seek damages from the NFL. More than 1500 former players have filed suit, claiming the NFL “repeatedly refuted the connection between concussions and brain injury.” When Dr. Bennett Omalu discovered CTE in 2002, the NFL first dismissed the theory, claiming there was no link between football and long-term brain damage. The league has since acknowledged a connection.
Once a person’s brain has been damaged, there is no treatment or regeneration of tissue. The key to stopping CTE is better prevention; better helmets and mouthpieces, as well as legislation to make all players keep their helmets securely fastened. There also needs to be better medical supervision at all NFL games; perhaps, even independent medical personnel on each sideline. Teams who pay their own doctors and trainers are generally more unlikely to sideline a player with a head injury.
CTE is like many other diseases, in that while there is no cure, it can be prevented. The National Football League, the hands down most popular professional sports league in the world, simply must take a strong stand, and they need to do it now. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who is still looking for something to leave the pro football world as his legacy, is the one person who can light enough fires under NFL owners to get it done.
In the “Old Days”, former football players and boxers were sometimes called, “punch-drunk”. They had some of the same symptoms as former players today, due to the repeated pounding to the head, on the field and in the ring. It’s now called, CTE; and Commissioner Goodell, the world is anxiously awaiting your response.
Contact Randy Smith at email@example.com
Randy Smith has been covering sports in Tennessee for the last 42 years. After leaving WRCB-TV in 2009, he has continued his broadcasting career as a free-lance play-by-play announcer, author and is also a media concepts teacher at Red Bank High School in Chattanooga. He is currently teaching an "Intro To Sportscasting" class at Red Bank, the only class of its type in Tennessee. Randy Smith's career has included a 17-year stint as scoreboard host and pre-game talk show host on the widely regarded "Vol Network". He has also done play by play of more than 500 college football, basketball, baseball and softball games on ESPN, ESPN2, Fox Sports, CSS and Tennessee Pay Per View telecasts. He was selected as "Tennessee's Best Sports Talk Show Host" in 1998 by the Associated Press. He has won other major awards including, "Best Sports Story" in Tennessee and his "Friday Night Football" shows on WRCB-TV twice won "Best Sports Talk Show In Tennessee" awards. He has also been the host of "Inside Lee University Basketball" on CSS for the past 10 years. Randy and his wife, Shelia, reside in Hixson. They have two married children (Christi and Chris Perry Davey and Alison Smith). They also have one grandchild (Coleman).