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Brain research could lead to revolutionary changes

Earlier this week, our Tom Curran spoke with Dr. Julian Bailes, Chair of West Virginia University’s Department of Neurosurgery.  And Curran picked up some powerful stuff regarding the problem of head injuries in football.

Bailes is one of the nation’s leading experts regarding sports-related concussions, and he has worked with Dr. Bennet Omalu, a neuropathologist  who has researched the brains of men like Mike Webster, Terry Long, Andre Waters, and Justin Strzelczyk — all former NFL players who died prematurely, and who suffered from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy.

Since it’s Saturday and you’ve got time to slow down a little bit and digest some pretty serious concepts, read Curran’s article at NBCSports.com and long but excellent GQ feature from Jeanne Marie Laskas, on which much of Curran’s article is based.

“I don’t want to bash the NFL,” Dr. Bailea told Curran.  “I love football and I love the NFL.  It’s
a great business and there are many great men and women working in it. 
The purpose of my criticisms in the [GQ] article and going forward is to
spur action to make the future of violent, contact sports safer.”

The action might include, if Dr. Bailes has his way, complete elimination of head-to-head contact, and possibly the end of the three-point stance.

The fundamental problem is that, regardless of the quality of the helmet that a player is wearing, the brain still moves inside the cranium when the body stops suddenly.  And that can contribute to the buildup of “tau proteins,” which can clog the brain like sludge.

“You can have padding on the head a foot thick and it wouldn’t matter,”
Dr. Bailes said.  “You’ve got a brain suspended in cerebral spinal fluid.  When your cranium suddenly stops whether by somebody hitting your head
or hitting you somewhere else to change your direction with force, your
brain continues forward.  It hits your skull then bounces back and hits
the other side of the skull.  But it’s not only the damage of your brain
striking the bone of the skull but there’s a micro-vacuum at the
capillary level that is caused microscopic damage.”

Dr. Bailes believes that, without real change, “It’s going to get worse.”

The challenge for those of us who follow the NFL is to realize that the men who supply us with thrills and highlights on Sundays and Monday nights have a lot of years left to live after their careers end.  So before dismissing the notion of embracing adjustments aimed at making an inherently dangerous game a little more safe for those who play it, let’s consider the fact that, while those players might at times seems like finely-tuned machines, they’re human beings — and they need to be able to make contributions to their families, society, and themselves for decades beyond the last time they’ve removed a football helmet.

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22 Responses to “Brain research could lead to revolutionary changes”
  1. VoxVeritas says: Sep 26, 2009 11:36 AM

    “The challenge for those of us who follow the NFL is to realize that the men who supply us with thrills and highlights on Sundays and Monday nights have a lot of years left to live after their careers end. So before dismissing the notion of embracing adjustments aimed at making an inherently dangerous game a little more safe for those who play it, let’s consider the fact that, while those players might at times seems like finely-tuned machines, they’re human beings — and they need to be able to make contributions to their families, society, and themselves for decades beyond the last time they’ve removed a football helmet.”
    Unless they’re Cowboys players, right?

  2. philwauke says: Sep 26, 2009 11:40 AM

    when I read this title I thought you were stepping down from this blog.

  3. Jim Rome says: Sep 26, 2009 11:49 AM

    Ridiculous! if the players don’t want the risk, don’t play the game. I heard McDonalds is hiring. Ridiculous!

  4. jimmySee says: Sep 26, 2009 11:49 AM

    Going back to leather helmets could make players less inclined to go helmet to helmet.

  5. bearsrule says: Sep 26, 2009 12:06 PM

    Greg Olsen took a couple of hits to the head last Sunday that were scary. On one of them he was on the sideline trying unsuccessfully to stand up. Two plays later he was back in the game.

  6. trikee says: Sep 26, 2009 12:09 PM

    That’s real sentimental Florio. Especially since I would say about 90% of NFL athletes use steroids so that they can enjoy fame and millions of dollars. Most athletes cheat on their wives too. That’s a known fact.
    They haven’t changed boxing. They aint gonna change football.

  7. Hauschild says: Sep 26, 2009 12:11 PM

    Who cares?!?!?
    How many aspects of our lives does big brother need to meddle in and ultimately have large impacts on in the name of ther perceived sham of doing something for the better good of mankind?
    When you analzye rationally, nearly everything known to man has potential for harm in some capacity. We have to get to the point of saying enough is enough.

  8. NinerNation says: Sep 26, 2009 12:16 PM

    If they got rid of the three point stance, I just wouldn’t watch football anymore.
    Now, I can understand the concern for the health of the players and everything…but their compensation level for playing the game is so much greater than that of almost any other profession. I’m not going to cry for them…maybe the only rule change needed is a three stikes you’re out rule. You get three concussions, you’re now retired…have a good one.
    The key thing is, is that these players need to learn when it’s time to go. If you know you’ve had several head injuries, and you’re playing a position where you’re likely to sustain more…then give it up. If these players would manage their finances better, they could retire aftet the completion of their first contract…so I don’t want to hear any more crap about the poor football players who don’t want to get hit.

  9. DoomsdayD94 says: Sep 26, 2009 12:29 PM

    I didn’t read the article – all I had to read was WVU. SHAMELESS!

  10. Roger the Dodger says: Sep 26, 2009 12:38 PM

    Police Officers know every time they go on duty they can get killed. They take precautions, but go to work. Fire fighters know they stand a good chance of severe injury or death every time they respond to a fire. They take precautions, but go to work. Steel workers can fall off of buildings. Race Car drivers can crash. Plumbers suffer from sore backs and knees. Coal miners get Black Lung. Deep Sea divers can get the Bends. Liquor Store operators can get shot by thieves.
    My point is that most occupations have some degree of risk. Pro football players face injuries which will shorten their careers, ruin their longterm health, or even kill them (see: Stingly, Daryl). They should take precautions, but go do their jobs – or find work elsewhere. And, they are being FAR more handsomely compensated for their risk than any of the other professions I mentioned.
    Oh, I forgot: Lawyers can get paper cuts. Tragic.

  11. greasygoat says: Sep 26, 2009 12:39 PM

    Here comes the birth of the NFFL (National Flag Football League).

  12. Hooded swan says: Sep 26, 2009 1:02 PM

    The NFL & each team have a powerful profit motive to pretend there’s no problem. Current players, whoever they might be at any given time, are short sighted by training. Fans are not inclined to think about what goes on behind the scenes. It’s up to the NFLPA, because there’s no one else, to bring together current & former players so that the current players will have an eye out for life after football. The players need doctors who don’t work for the teams to look out for them. The CBA & the contracts between players & teams will change if guys are more likely to retire early.

  13. leatherneck says: Sep 26, 2009 1:13 PM

    I agree with jimmySee — outlaw metal or rigid helmets. Bring back the leather helmet. That would force players to protect their heads better. Hopefully their would still be a face guard or dentists would get rich.

  14. king of chico says: Sep 26, 2009 1:29 PM

    you people need to have some compasion and not be jealous of how much money that these players make. and also i have to say that this country has the most stupid, ignorant and stubborn people that are in the entire world. The lack of understanding and ability to have civil discussion, and the out right lack of feeling and understanding for anyone, even family members has caused this country to become nothing but a bunch of selfish, jealous and very weak minded individuals who would rather have a big television than clean teeth. News print and articles have been dumbed down because of the lack of proper education. All of you are morons who will never realize how much you are being used for your money by big business. Do you realize that there is a “holiday” which forces you to spend money every month except for August? Why? Buy a gift for someone because you care about them, not because some “holiday” is comming. This stupidity has allowed me to take advantage of you idiots like you would not believe. Allowing for my family to live life greater than any of you dumbassess could think.

  15. greasygoat says: Sep 26, 2009 1:44 PM

    King…next time you go to call everybody “dumbassess” and “idiots” make sure you use spell check. Apparently literacy and grammar isn’t high on your priorities.
    The point people are making is that if you love your profession, you take the risks associated with that profession. Police and firefighters put their lives on the line. Professional athletes face injuries and disability as a result of playing the sport they love. If you ask almost any football player if they would like to get rid of the three point stance and limit contact on the field, they would laugh in your face (except Tom Brady).

  16. poiuyt says: Sep 26, 2009 2:31 PM

    greasygoat says:
    September 26, 2009 1:44 PM
    King…next time you go to call everybody “dumbassess” and “idiots” make sure you use spell check. Apparently literacy and grammar isn’t high on your priorities.

    I think you meant, “Apparently literacy and grammar [i]aren’t[/i] high on your priorities.”

  17. miltime27 says: Sep 26, 2009 2:33 PM

    Florio, WARNING! useful comment incoming.
    The problem with football concerning brain injuries is the emphasis on the use of the head in tackling.
    Football teaches put your head IN FRONT of the ball-carrier. “head on the ball”. Anyone who has played football has heard that phrase.
    Let me put forth an alternative that is prevalent in the other popular full contact sport (worldwide), rugby. In that sport, you dont wear helmets. This puts an emphasis on using your Shoulders and not your head to tackle. When a football player transitions to rugby, usually in college as I did, one of the biggest steps they have to take is remembering to put their heads “cheek to cheek” as opposed to “in front”. Cheeck to cheek means your head goes behind the ball carrier (cheek to his butt cheek) as opposed to sticking it in front of the ball carrier’s body.
    So the fix i am proposing is mandating a wrap rule. Tacklers must actually attempt to wrap a ball carrier instead of just launching themselves at the ball-carrier like a missile. I think everyone has recognized that actual form tackling in the nfl is lacking and that everyone is trying to put themselves on sportcenter. When form tackling, head placement is important because the idea is to get in tight. get your head past the ball carrier and get in tight with the shoulder, wrap the arms and drive the legs and finish the tackle.
    would it potentially make it less exciting by taking out the missile launch tackles? yes. but it may be necessary to make this a game that doesnt kill you within 20 years.
    I propose instituting a wrap rule. The tackler must make a wrapping motion on the ball-carrier. This will cause problems for over the middle passes. Maybe wr’s can no longer jump for the ball? (horrible) maybe defenders can only contest the ball and not the defender? (horrible) idk. but mandating more wrapping in some way would absolutely help.
    commence crapping on rugby, and myself. go for it. however the facts bear out that this sport: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R4UXv_Oo39c is less damaging to the human body than football and yet, as you can see, retains all the physicality

  18. Jolly says: Sep 26, 2009 3:27 PM

    Wow. What a bunch of IDIOTS some of you posters are.
    Comparing football players to Police and Firefighters? Really? Wow. That’s all I can say.
    I Love Football. But I am all for protecting these guys also. Sometimes laws and decisions need to be made in order to protect us against ourselves.
    A field worker would work his young life tirelessly for a penance in order to feed his family, that does not mean his employers should be allowed to take advantage of that and be allowed to not allow for Health insurance and other benefits.
    These guys are paid huge amounts. It means nothing though if 10 years later that money is being spent for health care just to be able to live. Or dying before reaching 50.

  19. Backinthesaddle says: Sep 26, 2009 4:22 PM

    The ironic thing is that a major part of the appeal of football is the war-like aspect and warrior-like players. To me football has all the aspects of “The Art of War”….entrenched lines, fighting for ground, tactics, strategy, ground assaults, aerial attacks, will, desire, determination, team work, field commanders (QB), generals (head coach)…..and of course the tremendous physical violence that goes along with trying to physically take something from somebody else that doesn’t want you to have it.
    All of these things are a part of what makes football appealing to me. It will be very very difficult to find a solution without ruining the appeal of the game.

  20. SmackMyVickUp says: Sep 26, 2009 5:05 PM

    The “concussion helmet” is a good example.
    It has extra padding to help reduce concussions or eliminate them and most players won’t wear it because it is bulkier than a normal helmet.
    Listen to Troy Aikman talk, its apparent he suffered some damage from his many concussions (8 or 9?).
    Steve Young also suffered quite a few, but doesn’t seem as affected. Don’t know what Collinsworth’s excuse is, not aware of a lot of concussions on him.
    Having two great QB’s in the same era retiring due to excessive concussions is a warning bell.

  21. NightTrainNeckTie says: Sep 26, 2009 5:51 PM

    This just in: Football can cause head injuries. Cigarettes can cause lung cancer. Unprotected sex can lead to pregnancy.
    let’s go Gloria Alred on this piece and take contact out of football, make cigarettes illegal and chop off everyone’s penis.

  22. sevendollarbologna says: Sep 26, 2009 8:44 PM

    How do you hurt something that you don’t have?

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