Those are two stories. There are too many stories to tell, here. Stories like the one about Andre Waters who shot himself at 45, and, once autopsied, was found to have brain tissue resembling an 85 year old man with Alzheimer’s. Or Dave Duerson, formerly of The Giants, who committed suicide by shooting himself in the chest rather in the head, because he wanted to insure that his brain was tested for CTE. Or Terry Long, who drank antifreeze. Or Justin Strzelczyk who drove his car 90 miles an hour the wrong way down a freeway. Suffice to say, there are plenty more, and you can go through them for hours.
I hate those stories.
None of those players made a big deal out of head trauma during their careers. Because head trauma is practically a joke – NFL players refer to it as “getting their bell rung.” That’s what Mike Webster did.
“He got his bell rung all the time, just like the rest of us,” says former teammate Rocky Bleier. “Webster would would treat a concussion like it was a hangnail,” Also like the others, he tried to shrug it off. “Everybody gets injured, but most injuries aren’t reported,” says Miki Yaras-Davis, director of benefits at the NFL Players Association. Players worry about ending their career, she says. “Like Webster, most of the guys will treat a concussion like a hangnail.”
This isn’t normal. And you know this isn’t normal. If you got a concussion, you’d be in the hospital. If you were wandering around your desk and got slammed in the head, everyone around you would panic. Because it’s serious. It is not normal to treat traumatic impact to your brain as though it is no big deal, because that is obviously a very bad idea.
Actually? Let’s have retired NFL player Brent Boyd, the founder of Dignity After Football address why treating concussions as though they’re no big deal is not a good idea.
And this is a game where they happen all the time. Time Magazine reported that:
“High school football players alone sustain 100,000 full-blown, diagnosed concussions per year. Flying under the radar are injuries mild enough to get passed off by coaches as a mere ding or ignored by players anxious to get back on the field.”
Everything would be fine if the brain rested perfectly snugly inside the skull. But since it floats inside a watery base, when it suffers a severe impact brains can bang against the skeletal structure and swell, which causes a concussion.
A blow to the head can cause connecting fibers between nerves to wrench and tear. The brain tries to repair itself, but if the blows continue, it can’t keep up, leading to deposits of tau proteins, a major structural component of nerve fibers.
“The taus begin to accumulate,” Bailes says. “I compare them to sludge. Any concussion could lead to taus, but what we’ve learned is that it’s the repetitive nature of what used to be called mild brain injury that causes problems.” Scarily, football helmets, which do a fine job of protecting against scalp laceration and skull fracture, do little to prevent concussions and may even exacerbate them, since even as the brain is rattling around inside the skull, the head is rattling around inside the helmet.
And as helmets become more protective, they only encourage players to play harder.