Friday, January 11, 2013

Goodbye to All That

Junior Seau had CTE, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the degenerative brain disease known to afflict individuals who have sustained repeated head injuries over time.

Junior Seau played football his whole life and was never officially diagnosed with a concussion.  Last May he sat down one day and shot himself in the heart.  Dave Duerson, the former Bears safety, did this too, as a way to preserve his cadaveric brain for post-mortem study.  The official report from the NIH confirmed a diagnosis that surprises exactly no one.  A lifetime of small, seemingly minor, but accumulative traumatic head blows sustained playing the sport he loved lead to a degenerative brain disease associated with depression, despair, and cognitive deterioration.

The NFL is in the process of being sued by a collection of over 4,000 former players for their role in concealing known risks of repeated head trauma over a career. 

Mike Webster, former Steelers center, died a homeless man, plagued by dementia and depression, living under freeway overpasses.  His brain showed evidence of CTE. 

Andre Waters shot himself at age 44.  At autopsy, is brain had degenerated to that of an 85 year old man with Alzheimers. 

Ray Easterling, a safety from the 1970's, shot himself after deciding he could no longer handle the decline into confusion and dementia.  His brain showed clear signs of CTE.

Jim McMahon, the QB of the Bears '85 Super Bowl team relates "are a lot of times when I walk into a room and forget why I walked in there".

Chris Henry, a 25 year old wide receiver for the Bengals, died stupidly in a vehicle accident after a domestic dispute.  His brain contained the tau tangles of  CTE. 

Justin Strzelcyzk killed himself after a long struggle with depression.  Again, his brain autopsy showed CTE. 

Browns legend Bernie Kosar, plagued by depression, headaches, slurred speech, and substance abuse, has been driven into the arms of a quack who claims CTE can be reversed with "wellness therapy". 

Nathan Stiles, a 17 year old high school kid, died after sustaining massive head trauma during a game.  His brain was autopsied.  CTE was found.  Again, a 17 year old kid. 

Pop Warner, the national youth football organization, recently changed its rules whereby 2/3 of all practices are now to be strictly "non contact".  Why would they do that?

These are the facts.  The most popular sport in America, the most lucrative professional sports league in the world, is in fact a modern day gladiatorial contest that spits out its participants as unessential flotsam once they have outlived their usefulness.  No contract is guaranteed.  A life of cognitive degeneration and psychiatric despair awaits many of them.  This is the billion dollar empire that lords over our Saturday and Sunday households.  This is what one has to unavoidably reconcile every time one sits down with a beer to watch NFL RedZone from 1-7 on gamedays.  This is what one cannot forget anymore when it's again time to renew season ticket orders. 

We are participating collectively in this carnage.  It doesn't exist on the scale it does now without our rabid interest.  The NFL does not sign multi-billion dollar TV contracts in a void.  Multi-million dollar pay outs to college football teams in bowls cannot happen without our dedicated viewership.  We watch to be entertained, to gamble on winners, to feel the surge of adrenaline after a crunching open field hit.

What we are watching are modern-day Carthaginian captives armed with shields and maces in an open arena against lions.  Are we being entertained?  Is the blood lust satiated?  Are our cheers loud enough to drown out the suffering moans muffled behind closed doors? 

So I am saying goodbye to football for the time being.  I'm a rabid fan, a fantasy football player, a Buckeye grad who never misses a game.  I will miss it, for sure.  It won't be that hard to walk away.  I have a demanding, time consuming job.  I have a wife I wish I could spend every minute with.  I have two beautiful children who are blossoming every day.  I have four stepchildren I can influence positively as they grow up.  I have plenty of other things I can do with my weekends.  But I cannot any longer be a part of something that destroys lives and families.   Tyler Seau no longer has a father.  His words are heartbreaking:
    "I guess it makes it more real," he said. "It makes me realize that he wasn't invincible, because I always thought of him as being that guy. Like a lot of sons do when they look up to their dad. You know? You try to be like that man in your life. You try to mimic the things that he does. Play the game the way he did. Work the way he did. And, you know, now you look at it in a little bit different view."
Tyler added: "Is it worth it? I'm not sure. But it's not worth it for me to not have a dad. So to me it's not worth it."
 






5 comments:

Attorney Andy said...

I will not stop watching. I hope the NFL pays out huge verdicts to the former players, because concealing the medical effects of the game from those participating is indefensible. However, the players you watch now know the risk. No one is forcing them to play. They are accepting that risk in order to play a game they love for millions of dollars. I would probably do the same thing. They are not like gladiators, who were slaves forced into the ring. They are willing participants. They are well paid. And I'm going to enjoy watching.

See you at next year's fantasy draft.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Parks your FFL team winning last year was an obvious outlier. Every other year you are irrelevant and keep the attorney company in the cellar.
Do you have any interest in going to Guatemala to share your surgical blessings? Who knows it may even become one of your religious experiences. March 8th - 16th

Jeffrey Parks MD said...

Atty: why are you so certain tha the players now "know the risk?". All this reserach just started to trickle out obver the past 2-3 years. And now that the ino is out there, are they supposed to just quit after investing an entire life in the game? not everyone can just walk away and become the next jesse palmer. They have families and bentley payments to make.

Vamsi Aribindi said...

Dr. Parks,

I've read your blog for sometime now (Thinking back, I believe I originally first came across your blog post analyzing Sarah Palin's pregnancy story).

These studies are truly saddening. However, I wonder if there's any way to delay/prevent the damage? Therapeutic hypothermia is commonly used now to prevent damage after strokes, heart attacks, and other ischemic events. Granted that concussions aren't ischemic, but do you think a protocol that places players in therapeutic hypothermia after concussions has any chance at saving their brains from CTE in the long term?

Finally, just wanted to say that reading your blog formed a small but not insignificant part of the reason why I decided to go into medicine after graduating with an engineering degree. I'm now an MS1 at USC. I particularly loved your posts on Cook County (especially since I'm from the Chicago suburbs), "The Lesion", and "Joy of the Master". I hope I can measure up to such quality when I graduate.

Respectfully,
Vamsi Aribindi

Frank Drackman said...

Hows that Clemson player Woody Hayes punched(in the Head) doin????

Frank "SEC wins again" Drackman