Could Football Players Have Brain Damage That Will Kill Them?

An autopsy for Tom McHale showed that he like five other former National Football League players had brain abnormalities. Those brain problems stem from years of concussions received while playing football.

McHale died at the age of 45. He joins a list of five others, Houston Oilers linebacker John Grimsley, former Philadelphia Eagles defensive back Andre Waters; and the former Pittsburgh Steelers Mike Webster, Terry Long and Justin Strzelczyk who had Chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

His widow told the Tampa Tribune that the nine years he played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were violent. He spent his final three years dealing with anxiety, depression and an addiction to pain killers.

“He was fighting with everything he had and he didn’t have a chance,” Lisa McHale said of her husband, who died of an accidental overdose of prescription medications and cocaine. “It’s extremely disturbing for me. Tom and I had no idea such risk existed.”

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) has been known to be a problem for boxers but more recent findings link the condition to both hockey and football players. CTE can affect cognitive abilities, trigger depression and behavior. Boston University researchers are studying the long tern effects of concussions.

Techniques to diagnose CTE can only be administered once a patient is already deceased. That can be a source of worry for players and former players who may be having issues.

The New York Times reports:

“It’s scary — it’s horribly frightening,” said Randy Grimes, who played center next to McHale on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for several years. “I’ve had my share of concussions, too. More than my share. My wife says I have short-term memory loss. It’s really scary to think of what might be going on up there.”

The dead players that are in the study all died between the ages of 36 and 50. Research is using that they had changes in behavior that is similar to dementia in the elderly.

According to Lisa McHale her husband never sustained a concussion while playing football in college or during his professional time. The motions though that the offensive lineman of each play though could very well have caused a whiplash affect.

Greg Aileo, a NFL spokesman, told the New York Times that the league is doing their own study on concussions. That study will be completed in 2010.

“Hundreds of thousands of people have played football and other sports without experiencing any problem of this type,” he said, “and there continues to be considerable debate in the medical community on the precise long-term effects on concussions and how they relate to others.”

The NFL started issuing tougher penalties for helmet-to-helmet blows in 2007. Players who lose consciousness are no longer allowed to return to the game or practice until they have a normal neurological test result.

“I think it’s because this is considered an on-the-job injury and it’s a huge liability,” said Nowinski, a former college football player and professional wrestler who himself retired after suffering the effects of multiple concussions.

As for McHale the injuries he received playing football could be the root of CTE or it could have been his own drug use. The drugs ended up being the cause of his death when he took an accidental overdose of Oxycontin and cocaine.

As for the others? Researchers believe that the link to six NFL’s deaths and CTE is the game itself.


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