Friday, January 25, 2013

Junior Seau, CTE, and Judgement Day for the NFL

The Washington Post reported on Wednesday about the decision by the family of Junior Seau to sue the NFL and Riddell, the manufacturer of the helmets, in a wrongful death suit.  Seau committed suicide in May 2012 by shooting himself in the chest. In what is becoming grimly repeated, ex-football players are taking their own lives with fire arms, but leaving their brains in tact so they can be examined.

Seau's brain was examined after his death and he was found to have sign of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy or CTE, a degenerative brain condition that impacts memory, mood, and motor skills. It's a condition being found with alarming regularity in ex-NFL players. Following the release of the CTE finding, I heard Tony Kornheiser on Pardon the Interruption remark that what made this so frightening is Seau did not have a history of concussions, indeed he may not have had one diagnosed concussion in his entire career.

I've been surprised in the intervening days since the lawsuit was filed that there has been no real coverage on the lawsuit. It is not the first lawsuit, but one of the most high profile given Junior Seau's renown and the freshness of the tragedy of his death. What thing is certain: a day of reckoning is coming for the NFL. Even as the words "player safety" have been on the lips of every league official, there is a back log of players suffering today who have sued wanting to know what the NFL knew about head injuries and when they knew it.

It's a situation that reminds me of the legal offensive against the tobacco industry, trying to figure out what they had tested for and finding the knowingly pushed a product demonstrated to cause damage to the user. All these law suits have a long way to go and in the absence of some real hard evidence I think many will be dismissed.

That said, the wide spread silence on the Seau family lawsuit feels those who get rich off of football trying to focus on the "sporting" parts of the game. What other reason could there be when we're on day 14 of talking about a girl that didn't exist, versus a man who did and to whom playing in the NFL was a complicating factor ending in his death.

I love football. I will have withdrawal the week following the Super Bowl, but let's start regularly having a real conversation about the consequences of head injuries. Let's have commentators acknowledge the crushing hits (of the sort that caused a fumble in the AFC Championship game, but went unacknowledged). Let's make a concerted effort to change the culture around football that cheers when the cracking of helmets is heard in the upper deck. In the long run, we'll save the game and more importantly lives, but we can't shy away from the hard conversations.

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