Head Injuries Catching Up with NFL: Something Needs To Change

Steven ResnickSenior Writer ISeptember 19, 2009

If you were to ask a majority of football fans on why they enjoy watching football the majority of the answers would be to see the big hits, regardless if it's at the college level or NFL level.

Yet, there's something more troubling as a result of the big hits especially the hits that cause a player to have a concussion and even worse is what happens to players who have had multiple concussions.

The NFL has finally stepped in making rules that help out certain players who are in a defenseless position, yet even that has been frowned upon.

An even more scary thought is the fact that in 1994, when the NFL instituted the Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Committee, the head of the committee wasn't even a doctor who specialized in neurology.

So, when certain players looked for help after their retirement from football they weren't able to get any disability because this committee could not find a link between concussions and dementia. The reason being is those on the committees didn't even specialize in brain injuries, so how would they know what to look for?

Brent Boyd who played for the Minnesota Vikings for six years in the 1980's states "Every reputable expert says that blows to the head'll cause damage if it happens enough. The NFL happens to have the only neurologists who say the jury's still out."

Even further troubling was the fact that the head of this committee, Dr. Elliot Pellman, subscribed to the practice of sending players back out onto the field after having a concussion.

On Yahoo!, Michael Silver wrote most recently about Kyle Turley who suffered his most severe concussion of his career in 2003. In the article it states that Turley had lost consciousness and wasn't even able to remember where his wife was sitting in the stands.

Even more disturbing about is what has happened recently to Turley. He passed out in a club for a few seconds. Once he returned home, he battled vertigo and uncontrollable vomiting. His wife, Stacy rushed him to the hospital where he went in and out of consciousness.

Turley describes how he felt “I was having a full-on seizure-type-thing, probably because my potassium levels were so low. I was on a table just flipping around like a fish; I was fully conscious and knew what I wanted to say, but I couldn’t speak.

"Realistically, if I hadn’t gone to the hospital, my kidneys could’ve shut down and I probably could have died. It was definitely the scariest experience of my life.”

Doctors as of now have not been able to pinpoint the exact cause of the episode, but the reality is that it more than likely came from head trauma that he suffered while playing in the NFL.

One doctor believes that Turley is on his way to Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). Which, is what doctors believed effected Andre Waters and Justin Strzelcyzk.

On Nov. 21, 2006 Andre Waters former Philadelphia Eagle who played 12 years in the NFL was dead at the age of 44. The reason was a self-inflicted gunshot. Yet, even more disturbing was the fact that Waters had a brain of an 88-year old.

Eric Allen a former teammate of Waters had this to say about his death, "I'm still shocked and numb knowing that Andre Waters is no longer with us. He was one of the guys who helped guide me at the start of his career and he was always someone I regarded as a friend even when we weren't on the same team.

"I know I wouldn't have been half the player or man that I am today if not for Andre being on my team. He was a great player and a good man.

"It hurts me to know that Andre was in such a deep depression and in so much pain emotionally that he felt that taking his own life was an option. He had so much to live for and I wish he knew there were other options. I'll miss Andre's friendship on and off the field."

Justin Strzelczyk died in a fiery car crash after running for 40 miles from the police. What is not mentioned in the new stories about Strzelcyzk is the fact that he had a much older brain as well.

Over the past few years we've seen in the news how dangerous the elderly can be who have dementia. In this case, Strzelcyk was just 36 years old and he had the brain of a much older man.

Yet, the NFL when looking at those examples stated that it was just "soft science."

Here's a question for the NFL what if these things start happening to Steve Young? Troy Aikman? Wayne Chrebet? Steve Wallace?

I remember watching the 49ers in the 1990s and Wallace seemed like he was always having issues with concussions. So, he had a specially designed helmet that he would wear while out on the field. Once can only imagine what his brain looks like now.

In Silver's article, it also mentions that, according to Sean Morey, a member of the NFLPA Player and Safety Welfare Committee, 50 percent of concussions go unreported.

The NFL is looking at some new developments: a move toward uniform terminology and testing policies among team medical personnel; enhanced helmet technology; recent rule changes regarding helmet-to-helmet and other dangerous hits, and the elimination of the kickoff wedge; a “whistle-blower” hotline for players to report unsatisfactorily addressed head injuries.

There's also an apparent push by newly elected NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith to make player-safety issues more of a priority than they were under predecessor Gene Upshaw.

But, yet this should have happened when the NFL first started that Mild Brain Injury Trauma Committee. All these developments should have already been in place at least 15 years ago when the committee came out.

It's time for the NFL to stop playing with their players lives and start making it a safer work environment otherwise there will be more stories like Turley, Waters, and Strzelcyk.

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