Player’s suicide sends NFL message

Last Friday, Dave Duerson, a former NFL legend, was found dead in his Florida home. Duerson, a two-time Super
Bowl champion and four time Pro Bowler, allegedly shot himself in the chest in order to send the NFL and game of football a powerful message.

According to a CBS news report, written by Armen Keteyian, Duerson had made it clear to his friends and family that he wanted his brain to be donated to science in the case of his death. “Just hours before the shooting, Duerson had texted family members requesting his brain be donated to science and examined for a disease known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, caused by repeated blows to the head,” Keteyian wrote.

Duerson’s death will surely send a message to the entire sports community. His brain has already been donated to Boston University, in accordance with his last wishes.

Boston University is home to The Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, which is a joint venture with the Sports Legacy Institute. Together, the partnership of these two groups aims at finding solutions to this disease.

Studying Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy isn’t a new development; In fact, the story of how the disease was discovered is a very interesting one.

In an article published by GQ in 2009 by Jeanne Marie Laskas, the story of the original neurologist responsible for the groundbreaking discoveries in CTE was told. The story was about a doctor whose findings were so incredible, so groundbreaking, and so bold that it resulted in a whirlwind of turmoil that eventually led to one scientist being cheated out of the credit he deserved.

Laskas’ story is about Bennet Omalu, the first forensic pathologist and neurologist to discover CTE in football players. Omalu’s findings came as a result of dissecting the brain of Mike Webster, a Hall of Fame football player who earned nine Pro Bowl appearances and four Super Bowl rings during his NFL career as a center for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Omalu, at the time, was a scientist who had very little knowledge of the game of football, yet he saw his job like all doctors should, as a calling to solve problems in the world of medical science in order to better other people.

Omalu’s determination to solve the abrupt death of a football legend would eventually lead him to findings that would change the scientific literature on athletes and concussions forever.

Mike Webster died of a heart attack, but before having the fatal heart attack, Webster had become mentally ill just like many football players do. We now know that this is due to the level of CTE within these players’ brains.

When Webster died at the age of 50 — the same age that Duerson died last Friday — he had fallen into a debilitative mental state like the majority of players who have been found to have CTE. Webster became so mentally ill that he began self-treating his own back problems by tazering himself into an unconscious sleep, according to Laskas’ GQ story.

“Mike Webster forgot how to eat, too. Soon Mike Webster was homeless, living in a truck, one of its windows replaced with a garbage bag and tape,” Laskas said.

According to the article written by Laskas, Omalu received a few other brains and all of them contained CTE. All of them also died young, dramatic, irregular deaths. Terry Long “died at 45 after drinking antifreeze,” Laskas said.

It is very likely that Duerson, the player who took his own life last Friday, was suffering from the same mental illness caused by CTE. The NFL needs to address the issue of concussions and player safety. They could start by recognizing the scientist who founded this phenomenon among NFL players and then go further by investing in his medical research.

We all love football and the sport’s hard hitting aspects, but seeing players die at such a young age and the number of suicides that are related to these cases of CTE is one sack that this sport can’t afford.

1 Comment

  • …one sack this sport can't afford?

    Did you seriously just make a pun about someone's death?

    This would be all right for a CSI intro, but in what's supposed to be a reputable college newspaper, it's heinous.

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