[San Diego, CA]--“Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) is a progressive degenerative disease of the brain found in athletes (and others) with a history of repetitive brain trauma, including symptomatic concussions as well as asymptomatic subconcussive hits to the head,” writes the Center For the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy.( http://www.bu.edu/cste/).
Was the shocking suicide of former pro NFL player Junior Seau 2 days ago, where the 43 year old put a bullet through his chest, due in part, to CTE? His mother’s gut-wrenching wails of pain seen on CNN televison Thursday was so palpable, it was especially hard to watch and her cries of, “Why my son God, take me instead” brought tears to my eyes. His relatives and friends in the league openly sobbed for a man they say was an all-around pro—on the football field and in his personal life. They are still bewildered by his suicide.
Everyone had glowing things to say about the prolific linebacker who played for 3 teams over a period of 2 decades before hanging up his helmet at age 40. His fellow players say he ‘played good and he played hard,’ always the one to go the extra mile, push through numerous pain and injuries to get the job done. Was this dedication his ultimate nemesis?
Why did a seemingly healthy athlete in the prime of his life, suddenly decide to end it? His family have agreed to let his brain be studied for chronic concussions which have been linked before to depression, anger issues, rapid mood swings, and suicidal tendencies. Seau’s death is not the only shocking one in pro-sports In 2011, --Chicago Bears star Dave Duerson also ended his life by putting a bullet through his chest. He left a note asking that his brain be studied for CTE.
In fact, a friend of mine Glen Gittens, himself an athlete, wrote this on his Facebook page: "The life expectancy of an NFL player who played more than five years in the league is 55, and for line men it is 52...nine of his teamates on that Chargers team that made it to the Superbowl are already DEAD....So is his death really that shocking....what is shocking to me is that football players life expectancy is twenty years less than the general population and America is virtually silent about that."
He is right. According to CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta, the number of dead athletes studied whose brains showed signs of CTE and the debilitating results were 18 out of 19, a staggering percentage. One of the athletes studied was as young as 17, which raises even more alarming questions and concerns. Many great athletes start playing before high-school, when their brains aren't fully developed. How much at risk are they?
When WWE pro wrestlercommitted the unthinkable by killing his young son and wife over a three-day period ending June 24, 2007 where he then hung himself, the World Wrestling Entertainment industry and beyond were stunned. The cool, seemingly quiet, unassuming Benoit who was trotted out night after night, from City to City never showed outward signs to his fans that he was coming unhinged. But to do what he did, he must have. After the horrific tragedy, many whispered steroid use may have been the cause but some also brought up chronic concussions. Tests done by Dr. Julian Bailes, head of Neurosurgery at West Virginia University confirmed those rumors of repeated concussions. According to the doctor’s report, Benoit suffered from chronic CTE, with his brain so severely damaged, it resembled that of an 85-year-old Alzheimer patient. Benoit ws only 40.
Like football and boxing, wrestling is a vicious contact sport and though many say WWE is more entertainment than hard core fighting, wrestlers do get hurt. Flying off ladders, beating each other with chairs are not all acts, some of it is real.
In the U.S. culture, sports are almost omnipotent; sacrosanct and cracking through that wall of worship may be almost impossible. On top of the fanatic love of the game, huge sums of money are involved and to those who operate the ‘purse strings,’ the bottom-line is extremely important--maybe even more so than the fun fans derive from arenas across America. Many will spend whatever is asked per ticket to see their favorite sport. But at the end of the day, sports is more business than just a good time had by all.
So how do you get the sports industry to put players health first instead of the ‘bottom-line? How do you get players to admit when they are really hurt and not adhere to the mentality that excellent sportsmanship, strength and ‘teamship’ means ‘manning-up’ and ‘ playing through pain? How do you get them to see past the multimillion dollar contracts, and endorsements? Most importantly, how do you get team owners to treat athletes as human beings not robots or chattel—patching them up and sending them right back out into the fray of the game? Many say rough and tumble is par for the course and is unavoidable in contact sports. But is death par for the course too?