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Medicine Science

Growing Evidence of Football Causing Brain Damage 684

ideonexus writes "NFL Linebacker Junior Seau's suicide this week bears a striking similarity to NFL Safety Dave Duerson's suicide last year, who shot himself in the chest so that doctors could study his brain, where they found the same chronic traumatic encephalopathy that has been found in the brains of 20 other dead football players. Malcom Gladwell stirred up controversy in 2009 by comparing professional football to dog fighting for the trauma the game inflicts on players' brains. With mounting evidence that the repeated concussions football players receive during their careers causing a lifetime of brain problems, it raises serious concerns about America's most popular sport and ethical questions for its fanbase."
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Growing Evidence of Football Causing Brain Damage

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  • by CannonballHead ( 842625 ) on Thursday May 03, 2012 @03:21PM (#39881175)
    Did you read the article? It's not just "they have brain damage." It was specifically that they had trauma induced brain damage.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 03, 2012 @03:22PM (#39881187)

    What's new are the long term consequences (sometimes not manifesting until decades later), and the links to depression, domestic violence, and suicide.

    I think the NFL has a big problem.

  • by coldsalmon ( 946941 ) on Thursday May 03, 2012 @03:25PM (#39881211)

    I apologize for my poorly-worded joke. A literal interpretation of the submission's title seems to indicate that any increase in "evidence of football" causes brain damage. This would explain why football fans appear to be brain damaged, since they are frequently exposed to "evidence of football." I don't actually think that there is a problem establishing causation here.

  • Just to be clear... (Score:3, Informative)

    by Nrrqshrr ( 1879148 ) on Thursday May 03, 2012 @03:27PM (#39881233)
    We'r talking about the rugby-like football here, not the one kindly called soccer on that other continent.
  • by ZeroSumHappiness ( 1710320 ) on Thursday May 03, 2012 @03:36PM (#39881365)

    Why would a game in which the primary method of scoring is to kick a ball with your foot not be called football?

    Oh, you're ignoring that the rules changed over the last three centuries or so while the name did not.

  • by gawaino ( 1191849 ) on Thursday May 03, 2012 @03:42PM (#39881469)
    Or, it was called football because it was played *on foot* as opposed to other games played on horseback.
  • Re:An easy fix. (Score:4, Informative)

    by OzPeter ( 195038 ) on Thursday May 03, 2012 @03:46PM (#39881557)

    The solution is obvious, remove all padding.

    You mean like they do in other parts of the world with Australian Rules Football [] or Rugby [] or Gaelic Football []?
    Different codes, but no padding and no separate teams for offensive and defensive, and the ball is in play for the entire match, not for a fraction of the time in American Football. I'd guess that the specialized American Footballers couldn't survive another code, yet there is a steady flow of Australian Footballers into America.

  • Re:An easy fix. (Score:5, Informative)

    by mooingyak ( 720677 ) on Thursday May 03, 2012 @03:53PM (#39881689)

    If the NFL went back to the type of padding/helmets they had just 20 years ago the players wouldn't be doing this damage to one another. The "armor" has evolved substantially over that time to minimize (cause?) damage, but humans have not.

    Junior Seau started playing over 20 years ago.

    Dave Duerson retired 19 years ago.

  • by reve_etrange ( 2377702 ) on Thursday May 03, 2012 @04:08PM (#39881955)

    Some people might find it unethical to watch a sport or other event if they have factual knowledge that the participants' health is being compromised for entertainment.

    The obvious parallel is to ancient gladiatorial contests: some Roman intellectuals opposed the games, though most did not.

  • by ZeroSumHappiness ( 1710320 ) on Thursday May 03, 2012 @04:09PM (#39881975)

    Since I apparently wasn't being clear enough originally -- yes, the rules have changed such that that is now the case. Originally, however, the game included much more kicking of the ball, either as a means of scoring, as a means of advancing the ball up the field or as a means of passing between players on the same team. American football, rugby and association football, aka soccer, all trace back to a small pool of similar games called "football". Each of those games, however, diverged in their rules sets. What the majority of the world calls "football" is most similar to the original games. Rugby changed its name as well as its rules. American football changed its rules but not its name. It's a simple concept, really, and I don't get why people refuse to understand.

  • []

    Objective: To determine the presence of chronic traumatic brain injury in professional soccer players.

    Methods: Fifty-three active professional soccer players from several professional Dutch soccer clubs were compared with a control group of 27 elite noncontact sport athletes. All participants underwent neuropsychological examination. The main outcome measures were neuropsychological tests proven to be sensitive to cognitive changes incurred during contact and collision sports.

    Results: The professional soccer players exhibited impaired performances in memory, planning, and visuoperceptual processing when compared with control subjects. Among professional soccer players, performance on memory, planning, and visuoperceptual tasks were inversely related to the number of concussions incurred in soccer and the frequency of "heading" the ball. Performance on neuropsychological testing also varied according to field position, with forward and defensive players exhibiting more impairment.

    Conclusion: Participation in professional soccer may affect adversely some aspects of cognitive functioning (i.e., memory, planning, and visuoperceptual processing).

    If it happens in adults, isn't it also likely to happen in kids? They may be hard-headed at times, but still ...

  • by jd ( 1658 ) <> on Thursday May 03, 2012 @04:20PM (#39882181) Homepage Journal

    The brain damage is obvious (well, at least to anyone who thinks about it - I honestly doubt the majority of American Football fans do).

    What has been in dispute is whether the adoption of safety measures (helmets, padding, etc) has helped or hurt. The tide of medical opinion seems to be that it has hurt, that all the gear gives an illusion of safety that doesn't really exist, leading to more frequent, high momentum impacts. What has also been in dispute is whether players have been placed in excessive danger due to the machismo involved - that concussions have been treated as no big deal, resulting in players with potentially serious head injuries being ordered back onto the field, and that the desire to win at all costs by managers, sponsors and players has resulted in a level of injury and death that simply wouldn't exist if the players were more concerned with playing well than with the scoreline.

    Certainly, you don't see reports of multiple suicides by New Zealand All Black Rugby players (although Rugby is arguably a more vicious game). Soccer players have reported deafness as a result of head injuries, but you don't see the massive incidents of domestic violence. That's usually left to the fans. (Ooops, did I say that?) Formula 1 drivers suffer incredible head trauma, but injuries of that kind are treated with extreme caution (neurologists are included amongst the circuit medics and brain scans after an accident are standard).

    I'm not saying any of these sports are "safe" - soccer has worked on making the ball lighter to reduce head trauma, which is good, but all of these involve participants suffering brain injuries from time to time. What I am saying is that American Football appears to have both a higher incidence of brain injury AND a greater severity of brain injury when incidents occur than any of the other sports I listed. Which is impressive, when you think about it, given that F1 cars can slam into a barrier at 170 mph.

    Of course, the big difference is that most F1 drivers have a major shunt perhaps two or three times a year, but American Football players can suffer head trauma every play and there will typically be between 60-80 of those per game ( over 16 games per season (, which gives you between 960-1280 potential head injuries per year.

    Repetitive, untreated head trauma is going to be worse than a very few, treated head injuries even if the latter are more severe in a given incident.

    Ok, what about soccer? It has plenty of head impacts. Well, according to studies, players head the ball 6-12 times in a game. ( That's a tenth the number of head impacts of American Football. The mass of a soccer ball is 1 lb, but the mass of an American Football player can be 290 lbs. ( If the impacts were at the same speed, you've vastly more momentum per collision in American Football -plus- vastly more collisions.

    There's plenty of evidence that some brain injuries occur in soccer, though it's not easy to see how this can be reduced much further given that we've gone from pig-skin leather soccer balls to ultra-light plastic. ( and [] This needs to be publicly recognized. It is NOT a risk-free sport and brain trauma IS inevitable.

    Rugby is perhaps a more difficult sport to explain. Head crunches aren't uncommon (although leg tackles are the standard), all manner of injuries are very common, and the forces are absolutely incredible. (A rugby scrum can put 20 tonnes of force down your spine.) True, the All Black's Haka (htt

  • And yet studies show that soccer players who header the ball also experience cognitive loss (I posted one example further up-thread). And unlike football players, soccer players don't have any head protection. You don't have to get a concussion to have damage.
  • by MightyMartian ( 840721 ) on Thursday May 03, 2012 @04:26PM (#39882277) Journal

    My understanding is yes. And it isn't just football players who are prone. There is a growing body of evidence in professional hockey and boxing that similar kinds of injuries lead to long-term behavioral and cognitive disorders. Remember, the brain does it all, so if impacts are severe enough to nail one kind of higher function, it's enough bugger up another. Whether it's the cerebellum or the cerebrum, they're all vulnerable.

  • by ZeroSumHappiness ( 1710320 ) on Thursday May 03, 2012 @04:33PM (#39882385)

    But many words don't change even when their definition does. When you call someone "mister" you're not indicating that they own the property your rent. (Mister comes from monsieur which comes from "my sire".) You still "hang up" your telephone when you end calls on your cell phone. I'm sure there are quite a few other examples I don't care to look up though.

    Also, you're ignoring the fact that "ball" does not require an object to be spherical and field goals, punts, place kicks and drop kicks are still very much in use in the game.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 03, 2012 @05:04PM (#39882905)

    If you are an investigative reporter, I suggest that an interesting topic for your research would be to pick a particular team, say, the 1972 Miami Dolphins, and track down all the players. How are they doing -- physically? As well as their peers in other professions? As well as they expected, when they were younger?

    This has actually been done. Having trouble finding an online version of the print article, but:

    From a summary at:

    Mike Martin (and the 1986 Cincinnati Bengals).

    Chances are -- unless you root for the Bengals -- you don't remember Martin, a seven-year return man and receiver for Cincinnati a quarter-century ago. But he's the centerpiece of a six-month project Sports Illustrated did that will appear in this week's "Sportsman of the Year'' issue, which comes out tomorrow.

    Last spring, I got this idea that everything we know and think about the physical and mental health of former NFL players is anecdotal. Dave Duerson, depressed, kills himself, so we think a vast number of hard-hitting defensive players are similarly afflicted. Harry Carson has lingering head trauma, so we think thousands of old linebackers must feel the same way. And many do, certainly. But what about the rank-and-file who don't make the headlines, who just melt away into life after football? I thought, Let's take a team from 25 years ago, and find out what happened to every player on it. So we did.

    We took an average team from the 1986 season, the 10-6 Bengals, and examined their mental and physical lives a quarter-century later. I worked with a dogged team of reporters -- staffer Matt Gagne (never takes no for an answer) and summer interns Joan Niesen from Missouri (so determined she took the work with her when she left SI and kept calling players) and Lizzy Pierce from Princeton (an all-Ivy outfielder who interviews as well as she hits) -- to contact the players from that team. Thirty-nine of the 46 living Bengals answered our eight-question survey. They range in age from 62 (quarterback Ken Anderson) to 46 (linebacker Joe Kelly, who turns 47 this week). Two of the seven didn't cooperate because of possible litigation over lingering injuries against the NFL.

    We believe it's the first time a roster of players was surveyed to determine the mental and physical toll (and benefits) of the sport decades after the players played.

    "I'm so glad you're doing this,'' said Cris Collinsworth, in his sixth of eight NFL seasons in 1986. "The NFL can't forget these guys. I'd like to see a study done of all former players and how they're doing long after they leave the game.''

    We used Martin because he seemed an average player. He played seven years, 1986 was the midpoint of his career, and his age, 51, was in the middle of the 48-man team. And his injuries seem about average too. "I take Aleve every day for joint and muscle stiffness,'' Martin told us. "It's my best friend.''

    Gagne writes about two players, safety Bobby Kemp and linebacker Emanuel King, whose lives were forever altered by football; Kemp's story I feel will shock even his former teammates, many of whom don't know what happened to him after he left football. I write about Boomer Esiason, who seems to have played with an angel on his shoulder pads. Now 50, Esiason said: "Nothing hurts.''

    The findings of our study will surprise you a bit, and I hope you take some time this week to digest our nine-page report.

  • Dr. Cantu at Boston Universities' chronic traumatic encephalopathy department said their study showed the average first-string college football player in a given year experiences between 800 and 1,500 blows to the head of a G-force greater than 20.

  • by tlhIngan ( 30335 ) <slashdot&worf,net> on Thursday May 03, 2012 @05:32PM (#39883245)

    Yep same reason basketball isn't called aerial hoopball.

    Except basketball today can still be played with baskets. Today's rules and everything, except the equipment from the late 19th century.

    The only difference is that the game would slow down a bit as someone has to retrieve the ball from the basket after every successful shot. It's the only reason why the bottom was removed from the basket in the first place - to not have to stop play and have someone get on a ladder, climb up, retrieve ball, climb down, keep ladder, and restart play.

    American football is completely different from the other football where most interactions with the ball involve feet (some involve hands and heads).

Houston, Tranquillity Base here. The Eagle has landed. -- Neil Armstrong