Everyone was shocked when the University of Pennsylvania football captain Owen Thomas took his life last April. An autopsy later revealed the young man’s brain showed the beginning of chronic trauma encephalopathy (CTE). Many believe that professional wrestler Chris Benoit, who took not only his life, but that of his wife and young son in 2007, also suffered from CTE. A neurosurgeon who examined his brain said the 40-year-old Benoit’s brain “was so severely damaged it resembled the brain of an 85-year-old Alzheimer’s patient.” So far, numerous NFL players have been posthumously diagnosed with CTE including Tom McHale, Andre Waters, Chris Henry, Mike Webster, Terry Long, and Justin Strzelczyk.
CTE can cause depression, erratic behavior, and even dementia in some cases. Athletes who had it have been known to experience hallucinations and many have become addicts, taking multiple drugs to try to ease their suffering.
Concussions can’t be ignored any longer, especially now that healthcare professionals are seeing more and more college and high school students affected. Even Congress has gotten involved, holding a hearing just this past week to determine how to safeguard young athletes.
Helmets have been invented to help monitor the magnitude of head impacts. Called the HIT system, these helmets tell doctors how hard a player got hit and the exact location. However, these helmets, which have been used by Virginia Tech, cost $1,000 each, which is pretty expensive for even the largest college football budget. The creators are hoping to come up with a more affordable system soon.
While these special helmets may help prevent concussions, doctors have advised players, especially those at the high school level to “see what you hit” and not lead into hits with their heads down. This technique seems to be the best advice against concussions, but coaches still say they see kids ignoring the advice. Some want the NFL to create a rule against intentional headfirst contact, but that may be unlikely.
Still, there may be hope. Doctors point out that injuries that used to kill players often now only cause concussions due to advancement in medical knowledge, better equipment, and safety rules. Things keep changing to protect players, so now that it is known how dangerous multiple concussions can be, you can bet there will be more changes in the future.