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Jack Sisson's TBI Blog

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Concussions confer tremendous brain damage," reports CNN. That's the latest finding from the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy (CSTE), at the Boston University School of Medicine. From a Boston University press release:
Leading medical experts at the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy (CSTE) at Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) reported today that nine-year NFL veteran, former Tampa Bay Buccaneer Tom McHale was suffering from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease caused by head trauma, when he died in 2008 at the age of 45. In addition, the CSTE has discovered early evidence of CTE in the youngest case to date, a recently deceased 18-year-old boy who suffered multiple concussions in high school football.
Jack has argued for many years that concussions were more serious than popular opinion made them out to be. In fact, he was concerned enough to found a study at his prep school alma mater that administers neuropsychiatric tests to every incoming athlete. This serves as the baseline for future tests. Then, if a student athlete suffers a head injury, a subsequent test could presumably measure the extent, if any, of brain damage.
The discovery of the initial stages of CTE in an 18-year-old should move the discussion of football's concussion crisis toward youth football. The identity of the 18-year-old will not be revealed at the family's request. According to Cantu who wrote the first return-to-play guidelines, "Our efforts to educate athletes, coaches, and parents on the need to identify and rest concussions have only been moderately successful because people have been willing to look the other way when a child suffers a concussion. I hope the discovery of CTE in a child creates the urgency this issue needs. It is morally and ethically wrong to allow our children to voluntarily suffer this kind of brain trauma without taking the simple educational steps needed to protect them."
By the way, Jack doesn't limit his concerns to athletes. He thinks everyone should be tested as part of routine medical care.

According to the results of the study:
McHale, a Cornell University graduate, former restaurateur, husband and father of three boys, is the sixth former NFL player to be diagnosed post-mortem with CTE since 2002. CTE, a progressive neurodegenerative disease caused by repetitive trauma to the brain, is characterized by the build-up of a toxic protein called tau in the form of neurofibrillary tangles (NFTs) and neuropil threads (NTs) throughout the brain. The abnormal protein initially impairs the normal functioning of the brain and eventually kills brain cells. Early on, CTE sufferers may display clinical symptoms such as memory impairment, emotional instability, erratic behavior, depression and problems with impulse control. However, CTE eventually progresses to full-blown dementia. McHale died due to a drug overdose after a multi-year battle with addiction. Expert consensus is that drug abuse of any kind would never cause the neuropathological findings of CTE seen in McHale.
We encourage you to read the entire press release.

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Ever since O.J. Simpson almost assuredly got away with murder, Jack has wondered if all of those years of football contributed to brain injury. We know that brain injury alone doesn't necessarily make one violent, but coupled with existing mental illness and/or child abuse, you end up fitting the model for one of Jonathan H. Pincus's violent killers.
Pincus and his colleague Dr. Dorothy Lewis, a child psychiatrist, developed the view that murderers, and especially the most notorious kind, such as serial killers, are the product of the combination of child abuse with neurological damage and psychiatric illness. The three factors interact, as childhood abuse creates enormous anger, while neurologic and psychiatric diseases of the brain damage the capacity to stop urges to violence. A supplementary disinhibiting factor is the abuse of alcohol and drugs, involved in an estimated 70 percent of violent crimes.
You can read more here.

So, with all of that in mind, here's an article from "Slate" that explores the same question -- could football have contributed to O.J.'s behavior?

Slate by Chadwick Matlin, Sept. 21, 2007 -- With the murder trial, the "hypothetical" outline of how he would have killed his ex-wife, and now his "sting operation" in a Las Vegas hotel room, it's hard to remember that O.J. Simpson used to play football. He was actually pretty good at it, running away with the Heisman Trophy in 1968 and making the Pro Bowl five times in his NFL career. As a pro, Simpson carried the ball more than 2,400 times. As the evidence mounts that football can cause massive head trauma, it's worth wondering: Could O.J.'s erratic behavior have something to do with taking too many gridiron collisions?

After former Eagles defensive back Andre Waters committed suicide last year, the Waters family sent pieces of his brain to a forensic pathologist. The doctor reported that damage sustained while playing football had made Waters' brain similar to that of "an octogenarian Alzheimer's patient." According to his doctors, Hall of Fame center Mike Webster suffered frontal lobe damage due to repeated head injuries; he was suffering from dementia when he died at age 50. A post-mortem analysis of Chris Benoit, the professional wrestler who killed his wife and son and then committed suicide, revealed massive brain damage. Diaries were also found with cryptic, disturbing passages that suggested Benoit's behavior wasn't a result of steroid-induced rage, but rather a gradual decline into violence and dementia.

All of these athletes sustained traumatic brain injuries that killed brain cells and left them permanently impaired. Dr. David Hovda, a neurosurgeon at UCLA told me that any altered consciousness—seeing stars, dizziness, or feeling dazed after a hit—is considered a mild TBI. Even a mild concussion causes damage. With football's macho culture, players often pick themselves up and stay in the game, leaving themselves open to more serious harm. But repeated TBIs can lead to an altered frontal and temporal lobe, which can cause heightened anxiety and a loss of emotional control. Football players tend to damage their temporal lobe, which controls feeding, fighting, fleeing, and the person's sex drive.
Keep reading.

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