Tuesday, November 3, 2009

A Breakout Season for Dementia

The 'epidemic' of head injuries among athletes may be turning a corner, as in the last ten days, the issue has broken through in the public consciousness:

* Malcolm Gladwell used his high profile column in the New Yorker to analogize the NFL to dog fighting (and somewhere, Michael Vick laughs. Or cries.) Gladwell also narrated a slideshow that provides graphic evidence of the effect that the sport has on brains.

* Last week, Congressman John Conyers held hearings on the effects of concussions and the NFL's response to them. Among the people testifying: NFL Commission Roger Goddell, and SLI representatives including Dr. Robert Cantu, Dr. Ann McKee, and Chris Nowinski.

* On Deadspin, a prominent sports blog, Michael Oriard, a former Notre Dame and Chiefs offensive lineman wrote about his own concussion history -- and perhaps a warning of its future:
One of Roger Goodell's worst nightmares has to be the possibility that football will come to be regarded as boxing is today: a potential and very violent path to celebrity and wealth that only the most economically desperate would consider and that the vast majority of Americans find unpalatable.

We need much more research — on large number of former players, over a long period of time — to know just how dangerous football is to the human brain. Knowing the answer might be a blow not only to the NFL but to all lovers of football. But continuing to not know might be considerably more painful for those who play the game.

(Disclosure: Sports Legacy Institute (SLI) is a client of Henshon Parker, LLP)

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