Lou Gehrig passed away 71 years ago today, June 2, 1941. A study released on Aug. 17, 2010 created speculation about the cause of Gehrig’s death.
12 athletes that suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) comprised the study's sample. It was discovered that three of the 12 had symptoms similar to those of Gehrig, who died from amyotophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
ALS is rare. About 6,000 individuals in the U.S. are diagnosed with it each year.
Individuals that suffer from trauma to the head and brain develop symptoms similar to those of ALS.
The researchers identified spinal cord markings on the three individuals with symptoms that resembled Gehrig’s. They suggested that they died by concussion or other head trauma that attacks the central nervous system.
Two former football players diagnosed with ALS, Wally Hillenburg and Eric Scoggins, had the condition, according to the study.
Gehrig was hit in the head numerous times during his career. Because he was Lou Gehrig, he continued to play despite fractures and being knocked unconscious.
Dr. Anne McKee, director of the neuropathology lab for the New England Veterans Administration Medical Centers, who was the lead neuropathologist of the study, hypothesized the concussions Gehrig endured, not ALS, might have killed him.
"Here he is, the face of his disease, and he may have had a different disease as a result of his athletic experience," McKee told the New York Times.
The danger of blows to the head cannot be overemphasized. It wasn’t until the 1950s that players started to wear batting helmets on a regular basis. I remember when all that players wore was a protective plastic lining under their hat.
The cause of Gehrig’s death will always be considered ALS. It doesn’t matter whether it was ALS or the concussions he suffered and basically ignored. Both problems are being addressed.
Major sports today are taking steps to protect players that suffer head trauma. Better late than never.