Tag: traumatic brain injury

08 May

The NFL’s Elephant in the Room

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As of last night, the parents of Junior Seau, who are from the island of Aunu’u, American Samoa, were meeting with Samoan elders to discuss how to respond to requests by researchers for the opportunity to study Seau’s brain. Last Wednesday, Seau, former linebacker for the San Diego Chargers, was found dead in his Oceanside, California home. His death was ruled a suicide. The media is saturated this week with discussion of whether Seau’s NFL career played a role in his early death. There are a number of indisputable facts, between which one can interpolate:

• Seau took his own life by shooting himself in the chest. Fifteen months ago, former NFL safety Dave Duerson died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest, having left a suicide note asking for his brain to be donated for research. The Boston University School of Medicine Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy determined that Duerson’s brain indeed showed signs of CTE, the progressive, degenerative disease associated with repetitive closed head injuries.

• Up until April 19, 2012, Former Atlanta Falcons safety Ray Easterling was the lead plaintiff in a class action lawsuit against the NFL over concussion-related injuries. Since his death last month, by suicide, his widow has vowed to continue to fight the lawsuit her husband started after 20 years of suffering from symptoms of repetitive head trauma including memory loss, mood changes and depression.

• According to a 2011 study conducted by the Matthew A. Gfeller Sport-Related Traumatic Brain Injury Research Center at the University of North Carolina, the average life expectancy of a retired NFL player is 55 years. Some insurance providers have indicated that this is actually an overestimation, and that in fact the average age is somewhere closer to 51 years. For comparison purposes, the average male life expectancy in the United States is 78.2 years. [Note: If you played for the San Diego Chargers in 1994’s Super Bowl XXIX, then the odds against you are significantly grimmer. Eight of those teammates are dead, all before reaching the age of 45; a statistical anomaly since the 8 deaths lacked common cause.]

• The same UNC study  suggested that retired NFL players suffer from dementia at a 37% higher rate than average.

• A 2006 report in the St. Petersburg Times found that the more games and practices an NFL player survives, the quicker he dies. In his first 14 pro seasons, Seau missed only 9 games.

If Seau’s parents decide not to donate his brain for research, we may never know with certainty whether he suffered from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. One thing is for sure, there’s something about playing in the NFL that doesn’t bode well for one’s life trajectory. Are repeated head hits causing organic damage to the brain, after which depression is the next domino to fall? Or perhaps, as in Easterling’s case, organic brain damage brings on intolerable shifts in personality and cognitive functioning, but in an unkind twist, leaves one with just enough insight to see what lies ahead. Roger Goodell has made great strides since becoming NFL commissioner in 2006, introducing preseason baseline concussion testing, for example, not to mention the unprecedented smackdown of the Saints players implicated in the bounty scandal earlier this month.  His work is far from finished.

Jennifer Hartman, guest blogger


03 Apr

Where Exactly is the NFL’s Tipping Point When it Comes to Concussions?

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Add former Washington Redskins quarterback Mark Rypien and 125 other former professional football players to the list of people now suing the NFL. On March 23, a class-action lawsuit in which Rypien is the lead plaintiff was filed in the U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. According to court documents, the lawsuit alleges that the NFL “deliberately ignored and actively concealed” the dangers and risks of “repetitive traumatic brain injuries and concussions for decades”.

Canadian-born Rypien, now 49, quarterbacked for the Redskins from 1986 until 1993. The suit alleges that Rypien suffered multiple concussions and head injuries during his time with the Redskins, and as a result, he now suffers from “various neurological conditions and symptoms”. The plaintiffs are seeking “medical monitoring, as well as compensation and financial recovery” for the long-term and chronic “injuries, financial losses, expenses and intangible losses”.


This class-action lawsuit is not an aberration; NFLConcussionLitigation.com lists 51 suits against the NFL, representing more than 1,000 former players. Just six weeks ago, the family of former Chicago Bears star Dave Duerson filed a wrongful death suit against the NFL claiming the league did not do enough to prevent or treat the concussions that severely damaged Duerson’s brain. In February 2011, Duerson died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest, having left a suicide note pleading to have his brain donated to researchers at the Boston University School of Medicine Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy. The attorney representing Duerson’s family said the NFL should have been a leader in educating current and former players about head injuries.

Rypien’s lawsuit comes on the heels of the NFL’s investigation of allegations that the New Orleans Saints and other teams had ‘bounty programs’ which offered cash bonuses to players for injuring specific opponents. In response, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell suspended Saints coach Sean Payton for one year, without pay.  General Manager Mickey Loomis was suspended for eight games, assistant coach Joe Vitt was suspended for six games and former defensive coach Gregg Williams (who left the Saints to join the St. Louis Rams) has been suspended indefinitely.  On Friday, Loomis, Vitt and Payton announced that they are appealing their suspensions.  The NFL has indicated that as many as 27 players may have been involved in the bounty scandal, although at the time of publication, none have been sanctioned.

Jennifer Hartman, guest blogger 

24 Aug

Traumatic Brain Injury

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Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) is defined as sudden damage to the brain, occurring after birth, as a result of an external force (e.g. crash, assault, fall). The effects of TBI are determined by the location and severity of the injury, as well as the age and general health of the individual. Thus, TBI results in a very broad spectrum of disabilities, and may include problems with cognition, communication, sensory processing, behaviour and mental health. Severe TBI can result in a long-term unresponsive state such as coma. [Note: ‘Acquired Brain Injury’ is the larger, umbrella term which includes not only TBI, but also brain injury caused by a non-traumatic event such as a stroke or an aneurysm].

TBI statistics are staggering:

· 11,000 people die each year in Canada as a result of a Traumatic Brain Injury (over 4,000 in Ontario alone). Annually, another 6,000 Canadians will become permanently disabled after a TBI.
· Most TBIs in Canada are caused by motor vehicle crashes, sports related injuries, falls and bike accidents. In the United States, firearms rank as the second-leading cause of TBI.
· The age group with the highest rates of TBI are the 15-24 year olds. TBI risk also spikes after the age of 65. TBI is the leading cause of disability among children and is the third most common injury leading to hospitalization in older adults.
· TBI affects men at twice the rate of females. Men are also more likely to suffer severe injuries, and thus incur a higher mortality rate.

TBI prevention has evolved tremendously over the years to address issues such as seatbelt use, driving under the influence, helmet use, pedestrian safety, shaken baby syndrome and elderly falls prevention.

Jennifer Hartman, Guest Blogger


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