Saturday, October 31, 2009
NFL Head Trauma
Malcolm Gladwell has an illuminating article in last week's New Yorker about an entity known as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) which is a variant of cognitive dementia that develops in people who are subjected to repeated blows to the head (pugilists and football players especially). The article is debased slightly by the usual Gladwellian attempt to make a forced correlation between two seemingly unrelated topics (in this case dogfighting and NFL linemen), but it's a decent read nonetheless.
A recent study from Boston University delineates the pathophysiology of CTE as relating to abnormal deposition of the tau protein (whatever that is). Another study from the University of Michigan reports that former NFL football players develop early onset dementia or memory loss at a rate 19 times higher than the general male population between the ages of 30-49. There was even a sample from a teenage football player whose brain showed abnormal levels of the tau protein.
The bottom line is that football is an extremely dangerous activity. The dog fighter analogy is a stretch but these guys who play professional football for a living are indeed the gladiators of our age. Especially the interior linemen. And none of their contracts are guaranteed, that's the best part. These billionaire owners can cut a guy at any time, for any reason. Injury prone? Too many concussions? Out the door. So these guys play through it. They lace up their pads until they can't physically do it anymore. And too many of them are ending up like Mike Webster after their playing days have ended, sleeping under highway bypasses with all the other bums....