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PBS Documentary — Traumatic Brain Injuries in Football


 “League of Denial: The NFL’s concussion Crisis,” which aired this week, looked at the long-term effects of playing football on both physical and mental health as well as the NFL’s effort to downplay that information. It is an important documentary that sheds light on traumatic brain injuries (TBI) resulting from professional football collisions.

It’s not that the National Football League (NFL) doesn’t understand the link. Twenty years ago the NFL established the Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Committee (MTBI) to look at what happens when trauma to the head is prolonged and profound. Instead of offering what it found, the committee buried the documentation.

It took the death of a player to resurrect the information. Mike Webster, a Hall of Fame center for the Pittsburgh Steelers, died in 2002. The Super Bowl champion suffered from mental deterioration so bad he was unable to speak, suffered from severe mood swings, amnesia, dementia and depression. Alzheimer’s disease, the mind-robbing condition, was suspected but an autopsy found Webster had scar tissue in the areas where his head had collided with the helmet.

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) was diagnosed. Its symptoms are memory loss, dementia and aggression. There is no cure for this degenerative disease.

Historically CTE has been associated with boxing, ice hockey, wrestling and with soldiers who’ve been exposed to a concussion or strong blast.

Reports of CTE are on the rise. This may be due to an increase in awareness or in athletes becoming stronger and using more force in their pursuits.

The documentary reports that the medical examiner made public his findings but the NFL attacked its credibility and called it “voodoo” and asked him to withdraw the report.  The medical examiner then published another report on Terry Long, a former offensive lineman for the Pittsburgh Steelers.  Long committed suicide in 2005 after suffering mental problems. After his death, CTE was confirmed.

Again the NFL doctor wasn’t interested. The new head of the MTBI also denied any link between CTE and brain decline.

Athletes are told since Pop Warner to forget their health and to ignore pain, “to walk it off”; oblivious to their physical health. When hundreds of millions of dollars are at stake, the NFL chooses to remain oblivious to the bad news contained in this documentary and the many reports which preceded it.

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