A devastating look at NFL concussions
POSTED 2:00 p.m. EDT, May 15, 2007
A DEVASTATING LOOK AT NFL CONCUSSIONS
by Michael David Smith
Last year, Bryant Gumbel made some comments on HBO's Real Sports that embarrassed the NFL.
He insulted the head of the NFLPA, Gene Upshaw, suggesting that he was nothing more than a puppet for the league. That was particularly noteworthy because Gumbel had recently been hired as the play-by-play announcer on NFL Network.
That controversy has long since blown over, but a Real Sports segment that first aired Monday night (a brief clip of which can be viewed here) has the potential to be a much bigger problem for the league.
The segment began with a discussion of former Philadelphia Eagles safety Andre Waters, who committed suicide last year. Waters' family donated his brain to be studied, and the doctors who examined it believe the concussions he suffered in the NFL directly contributed to the depression that led to his suicide.
Dr. Ira Casson, a neurologist and the head of the NFL's committee on concussions, insisted that "[t]here's no clear evidence" connecting player concussions to depression, dementia, Alzheimer's disease, or any other health problem. Of course, the tobacco industry was able to find doctors, who would say there were no long-term health risks associated with smoking cigarettes for decades -- even after everyone knew that was nonsense.
I'm not saying Casson is anything like the doctors who inhabited the back pockets of the tobacco companies, but a doctor who gets a paycheck from the NFL has an obvious conflict, and according to the Real Sports report, independent doctors who aren't conflicted say people who suffer concussions in their 20s and 30s end up with serious problems later in life.
Every time a former NFL player shows up on television with clear signs of brain damage, everyone watching has to wonder why no one stepped in to put a stop to this problem.
And that led to the question from Gumbel at the end of the segment, a question every viewer had to know was coming: "Where's the NFLPA in all this?
Where's the union that's supposed to be protecting these guys?"
While Gumbel might have an axe to grind with the union, it doesn't mean that his question is not a good one.
Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please. Mark Twain