MADISON, Wis | Being available to play is among the most important traits for players in the National Football League. Whether it’s the fear of losing your job or just the idea of not wanting to let your team down, the ability to play through pain is a treasured commodity. It’s also the biggest factor the league is fighting in its battle to better diagnose and treat concussions – at least according to Green Bay PackersquarterbackAaron Rodgers.
“When you’re competitive, the last thing you want to do is come out of a game, regardless of what kind of injury it is. Whether it’s an ankle, a knee, a rib or a head injury,” Rodgers told Bill Simmons during an episode of HBO’s “Any Given Wednesday.”
Entering his 12th season in the league, Rodgers has suffered two known concussions. The first came on the final play for the Packers offense in Washington early in the 2010 season. He returned to play the next week. The second came later that season in Detroit. Despite being knocked out for a second and clearly being dazed, Rodgers stayed in the game for one more play.
“You know the head injuries are obviously more dangerous, but it’s that mindset. The want to play through those kind of things,” Rodgers said. “Until that mindset changes, there’s going to be guys like Calvin [Johnson] who come out and say, ‘Yeah, I played through a lot of concussions.’”
Johnson, the former Detroit Lions wide receiver who surprisingly retired after last season, recently did an interview with ESPN where he said concussions happen, “if not on every play, then they happen every other, every third play.”
The NFL has been rocked in recent years by concussion lawsuits, and the discovery that many former players are dealing with the fallout from taking so many hits to the head. A number of retired players, including Hall of Famers Junior Seau and Mike Webster, were found to be suffering from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which has been linked to head injuries. Their post-career struggles have many calling for change, including Rodgers.
“We can’t have any more situations like we’ve had the last 10 years,” he said. “You’re having guys either taking their own lives or end up passing and they’ve been dealing with this on a major level.”
The league has been criticized for not admitting to a connection between head injuries and CTE fast enough, but there have several attempts made in recent years to curb the violence of the game. Still, it is a contact sport and only so much can be done to avoid head-on collisions.
“If we can’t do anything else with the player safety, which they’re doing a ton taking care of guys in dangerous positions down the field and quarterbacks and guys who are in compromising situations, then we need to look at what’s going on in the back end and how we’re taking care of our guys who are moving on that have dealt with a lot of head injuries,” Rodgers said.
“We need the scientific community to kind of step up and lead the way there.”
Borland’s abrupt end to his professional career brought awareness to concussions, head trauma, and specifically, chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). This winter’s “Concussion” film futhered those efforts and now scientists are working on multi-million-dollar studies to find a cause for this brain disease.
In an exclusive series by The Zone’s Eric Rogers, leading doctors in the field, as well as some former players, provide insight into changes coming to the sport of football.
By Eric Rogers
Apr. 28, 2016
MADISON, Wis. — During the airing of The Zone’s exclusive series “A Dying Tradition: Concussions and the NFL,” more has come to light regarding head injuries and the brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).
Over the last few weeks, former University of Wisconsin and San Francisco 49ers linebacker Chris Borland has been working with initiatives outside of football that allowed him to take his mind off concussions and the attention he’s brought to the effects they can have on long-term health.
Dr. Julian Bailes, M.D., the “Concussion” film doctor who we spoke with in our series, brought new information to light this week when he told the New York Daily News that former BMX rider Dave Mirra “may have had CTE.”
Bailes says CTE had not previously been discovered in BMX riders, but that repeated crashes over the course of a career could make it a possibility. MIrra suffered a self-inflicted gunshot wound in February.
Also from the “Concussion” film, Dr. Bennett Omalu, will be receiving the brain of recently-deceased WWE star Chyna, who was found dead in her apartment earlier this month. The physical nature of her profession, along with a history of battling drugs, may have contributed to her death, although results have yet to be released.
One of the more recent high-profile NFL deaths is that of former San Diego Chargers linebacker Junior Seau, who took his own life knowing there was something wrong in his brain. He suffered a gunshot wound to the chest.
Seau’s daughter, Sydney, was not initially allowed to speak at her father’s Hall of Fame induction due to “rule changes,” a decision that didn’t sit well with former Wisconsin Badgers, Denver Broncos, and 49ers defensive back Jason Suttle,
For many of the doctors working with NFL teams, science has changed protocols for the better and research is allowing for better treatment of head injuries.
The same goes for the collegiate level. Dr. Alison Brooks, another expert featured in “A Dying Tradition: Concussions and the NFL,” says trainers at the UW can be trusted.Brooks was recently awarded with a $20,000 research grant for her work titled “Parent-Athlete Knowledge of Sport Volume Recommendations, Attitudes and Beliefs towards Sport Specialization.” Brooks believes the specialization of a single sport early in a child’s athletic career increases the risk of injury.
But there’s still work to be done as the medical field tries to learn more about brain diseases like CTE. Walker Williams, a former Badgers offensive lineman, says it starts at the lower levels of athletic programs.
Editor’s note: a special thank you to those who took part in “A Dying Tradition: Concussions and the NFL”
Dr. Julian Bailes
Dr. Alison Brooks
Dr. David Kaufman
“I believe Mr. Miller, in his formal representation of the NFL, has stated publicly and before congress that there is a relationship [between football and chronic traumatic encephalopathy]. Furthermore, this CTE issue is not going away. A benefit to this debate, is that safety in sports has correctly become a national issue.”
Dr. David Kaufman, D.O., Professor and Chair of Neurology and Ophthalmology, Michigan State University Clinical Center
Dr. David Kaufman, D.O., Michigan State University Clinical Center, believes the NFL and vice president of health and safety Jeff Miller have identified and accepted that football can cause long-term brain health issues. Miller’s statements in March have brought public awareness to CTE, while the NFL’s research since the 2005 discovery of the disease shows improvements in the way current players are evaluated. Presently, there continues to be a rift between some of the league’s former players, with science and prevention remaining in no man’s land.
Dr. Alison Brooks, M.D., University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public health, feels the advancements in science haven’t answered the question of how to prevent long-term brain damage, but have merely uncovered a broader sense of how many players are affected. Her solution for prevention of CTE is to develop a test that can diagnose the problem before post-concussion syndromes reach a chronic state.
Former UW football players Jason Suttle and Walker Williams agreed that the NFL, among lower levels of football, have not provided enough advanced warning to its players about the potential dangers of participating in the sport. Additionally, both believe players have been sent back into a game even after suffering a concussion. Kaufman theorized that trainers and doctors who are not with the team on a frequent basis may miss some of the warning signs.
“…one of the early findings in concussion is personality change,” Kaufman said. “Unless you know the student-athlete well, it is quite possible an ‘independent’ doctor may miss this subtle clinical finding signaling a concussion. That would be regrettable.”
The American Academy of Neurology released its findings in a study, claiming over 40 percent of the former NFL players tested had developed traumatic brain injuries. Those players had been in the league for an average of seven years and accumulated an average of 8.1 concussions during their playing career.
Williams hadn’t even reached the NFL yet when he made the decision to walk away from football, having accumulated a diagnosed four concussions (all in college). Had he known during high school what he knows now about the sport and risk of head injuries, he wouldn’t have participated in college football. At 41 years of age, Suttle is already experiencing some short-term memory loss and says he may consider donating his brain in an effort to bring more knowledge to the topic and make the game safer.
Dr. Julian Bailes, M.D., Northshore Neurological Institute, believes the trend of players taking an early retirement will continue despite advancements in scientific knowledge. A lack of solutions by those same scientific communities make the NFL’s job tougher in earning the trust of its players, while players like Suttle want what’s best for their health.
Will we ever reach a point of total transparency?
Williams says the only way to get to the bottom of what he perceives as a cover-up by the NFL is to threaten its revenue by avoiding televised games and not purchasing NFL products. Suttle’s solution is to begin with the doctors who treat these athletes.
“Today, there’s still somewhat of a cover-up. But the good thing is, they’re going into independent doctors that evaluate players on an everyday basis. And especially during the games, they evaluate players and they’re not paid by the team’s that they’re working for.”
While the doctors I spoke with work towards developing the proper tools to diagnose and prevent CTE, they all believe more research is needed to generate solutions for this and other trauma-related diseases.
“Ongoing effort is needed to find ways to make this sport safer,” Dr. Kaufman said in an email response. “I feel privileged to be part of that effort.”
In the meantime, Dr. Bailes and Dr. Brooks are supporting efforts made by collegiate and professional football teams and their medical staffs.
This has been a Zone exclusive multi-part series…A Dying Tradition: Concussions and the NFL.
Has your family been affected by concussions? Tweet us using the hashtag #ADyingTradition and we’ll have a follow up article on MadCitySportsZone.com
The University of Wisconsin has had its share of football players walk away from the sport due to the possible long-term effects of head injuries. Walker Williams is the latest in a trio of young linemen to leave the Badger program just this offseason. Coincidentally, Arthur Goldberg announced his decision in March alongside Williams, while Hayden Biegel (his brother Vince is still on the team) left a few months earlier.
But Williams said head injuries aren’t an isolated incident at Wisconsin. Having played football his entire life, Williams predicted a concussion-filled playing career for all of those who participate in the sport.
Dr. Julian Bailes said teams at all levels of football are becoming more thorough in diagnosing concussions and have better systems in place to help those athletes recover properly. He said there are no medications currently prescribed to players suffering from concussion-related head injuries and that the uncertainty of future treatment of diseases like CTE and early-onset dementia have caused players to question the benefits of continuing their playing careers.
“It seems such that there’s a trend for more players taking an early retirement because of health reasons, and particularly concerns about chronic brain injury,” Bailes said during a phone interview last month. “So I think that’s happening, yes.”
While playing for the UW, Williams never felt any pressure to step back into the game while dealing with a head injury, but he said it has happened at lower levels of football and he was certain pressure exists at other universities. There’s no documented percentage of collegiate or NFL players stepping away from the game due to long-term risks, but former UW and NFL cornerback Jason Suttle isn’t confident his son should follow in his footsteps.
“I have a boy and he loves football. I’d be fine with him playing football, but honestly, I’d push him towards golf; I’d push him towards baseball; I’d push him towards these non-contact sports just because of the possibility of CTE”
On one hand, the NFL and Jeff Miller, senior vice president of health and safety, appear to have accepted the dangers of playing football and the possibility of brain diseases like CTE. At the same time, there isn’t uniform trust by former players at either the collegiate or professional level that the league is being transparent about the risks of these brain injuries. According to Suttle, comments made by NFL owners at this year’s winter meetings provide some doubt as to the league’s priorities when it comes to acceptance of the effects of CTE. Colts owner Jim Irsay compared the risk of playing football to the risk when taking aspirin. Williams backed up Suttle’s viewpoint, saying “just because they’re on the books saying there’s no risk, doesn’t mean there’s no risk.”
In 1994, former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue created the Mild Traumatic Brain Injury (MTBI) Committee in an attempt to learn more about concussions and the effects on NFL players. His decision to appoint Dr. Elliot Pellman, M.D. to lead the committee was met with criticism because Pellman has admittedly put players back in the game after being diagnosed with a concussion.
In December of 2015, an Outside the Lines report claimed the NFL had pulled $16 million out of a seven-year concussion and brain trauma study because the league didn’t believe the researcher assigned to the study was objective. The NFL responded to that report by calling it “inaccurate.”
Dr. Alison Brooks, MD, conducts most of her work with the University of Wisconsin in conjunction with the women’s hockey and men’s soccer programs. She says the UW is partnering with the NCAA and the U.S. Department of Defense as part of a $30 million multi-part study to help better understand CTE and perhaps find biomarkers to determine in living subjects whether or not they’ll develop post-concussion syndromes.
Both Suttle and Williams believe there’s a level of dishonesty happening in the NFL and Williams said a full admission wouldn’t spell the end of the football empire; there would always be players willing to participate in professional football.
Both former players also said the amount of revenue the NFL makes off its players is another reason they feel the league isn’t being more up-front about the potential long-term health effects. Telling players the entire truth about CTE could put their product at risk.
Williams said the NFL’s revenue would only be threatened if there were no consumers for the product.
“If people say ‘until you’re straight-up about this issue, I’m not going to watch the NFL,’” Williams said. “An even bigger thing is if [broadcast networks] say ‘we’re not going to be bidding anymore for Thursday Night Football.’”
While players and the NFL continue to be at odds over the issue, Dr. Alison Brooks, M.D. (University of Wisconsin), and Dr. David Kaufman, D.O. (Michigan State University), have been working behind the scenes to prevent the potentially deadly effects of chronic traumatic encephalopathy.
As heard on The Sports Section | Part 2 Full:
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Full interview | Walker Williams:
Sources: http://www.foxsports.com/nfl/story/cte-nfl-owners-comments-jim-irsay-jerry-jones-robert-kraft-john-mara-dan-rooney-032916 http://espn.go.com/espnmag/story?id=3644940 http://www.cbssports.com/nfl/eye-on-football/25423215/nfl-calls-report-of-league-pulling-concussion-research-funding-not-accurate
“We didn’t think that this could happen. We knew it could happen in boxers. We, I guess, assumed the helmet would be protective, but it isn’t.”
Julian Bailes, MD, Chairman of the Department of Neurosurgery and Co-Director of the NorthShore Neurological Institute based in Evanston, Ill.
In many ways, the “Concussion” film featuring Will Smith and Alec Baldwin has drawn positive attention towards the degenerative brain disease known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). But while the science behind discovering the disease has led to advancements in how players are treated today, it leaves doctors and players with more questions than answers.Dr. Julian Bailes is a former team doctor for the Pittsburgh Steelers, currently the Chair of the Neurosurgery Department at NorthShore Neurological Institute in Illinois. In a phone interview on Mar. 22, Bailes said the game of football has changed dramatically since the 2005 discovery of CTE in former University of Wisconsin and Steelers center Mike Webster, but there continues to be public concern over the care for current players and their brain health.Former Badger Chris Borland is perhaps the most well-known athlete retiring from the NFL over fears he may develop long-term health problems. After multiple seasons on postseason awards lists with the UW and a promising rookie season with the San Francisco 49ers, Borland announced his retirement in March of 2015. He’s received both praise and criticism for his comments, telling CBS News he believes football is “inherently dangerous.”Jeff Miller, the National Football League’s senior vice president for health and safety, confirmed there is indeed a link between football and neurodegenerative diseases such as CTE. That admission came on Mar. 14 during a roundtable discussion with the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Energy and Commerce.Bailes was pleased to hear of the league’s first public statement connecting the sport with head trauma.“I believe it’s a positive development,” Bailes said. “It should allow us to focus even more on no longer debating what is causing this CTE, but really looking at how we make football and all contact sports safer.”Bailes said to his knowledge, there has never been an attempt to withhold information from the players.In speaking with former players for the purpose of this report, none of them agreed with that statement. Bailes, along with Dr. Alison Brooks, M.D., and Dr. David Kaufman, D.O., took the stance that the NFL has done its due diligence in being fully transparent with its current players.A former defensive back for the UW, Denver Broncos, and San Francisco 49ers, Jason Suttle has reason to believe the NFL isn’t being fully truthful about the full effects of CTE, even after years of research on the condition.
“There’s no question. They [NFL] are protecting their assets. Let’s be honest. There’s 100 percent shadiness going on because the science doesn’t lie. They’re just protecting their back.”
In Bailes’ estimate, about 10 percent of those who suffer from chronic post-concussion syndromes develop CTE. Kaufman, Professor and Chair of Neurology and Ophthalmology at Michigan State University, says there’s no consensus over how many current players may develop the condition, but that “estimates vary from less than .01 percent to up to 25 percent.”Dr. Ann McKee, M.D., professor of neurology and pathology at Boston University, published a study in October of 2012 finding CTE present in 87 percent (64 out of 56) of subjects with backgrounds in a contact sport. 50 of them had played some level of football, with 33 coming from the NFL.But with the science so strongly linking football with the potential for developing CTE and Miller already admitting that link, why are former players still at odds with a league so many young athletes aspire to reach?At just 41 years of age, Suttle says he’s already experiencing symptoms he fear may be from years of compounded head trauma.
“It’s definitely crossed my mind. I know that. I played football my whole life. Obviously I’ve had a lot of hits to the head because I played football my whole life. And I know that at this point in my life, there are things that seem like they could be some type of effect from football, like memory loss. I definitely have short-term memory loss. There’s no question about that (laughs). What it’s from? I don’t know, but it could come from the multiple concussions that I’ve had…”
Jason Suttle, former defensive back, University of Wisconsin, Denver Broncos, San Francisco 49ers
Suttle’s main concern is that during his playing days, the NFL didn’t allow him the opportunity to choose whether he wanted to continue down a potentially dangerous path. He claims the NFL knew for years that repetitive head trauma would have long-term effects, even prior to the discovery of CTE.Bailes challenges that viewpoint, asserting that the NFL continues to do everything in its power to limit traumatic brain injury and is forthcoming with knowledge on the subject. Suttle disagrees with that assertion, instead claiming Bailes is trying to stay in the league’s good graces.
“He’s siding with the NFL because he’s probably getting pressured from people who have a lot of money and a lot of influence to keep him silent and to make sure that he sides with the powers that be.”
If Suttle’s theory is true, it wouldn’t be the first time the NFL has pressured or threatened an entity into a softer angle when it comes to head trauma. On Mar. 24 of this year, the NFL asked the New York Times to remove an article outlining the league’s “flawed concussion research.” The Times also alleges the NFL had a hand in forming aspects of the 2015 film “Concussion” and changing key plot points to “prevent NFL protests.”Concussions and CTE became a mainstream topic at the NFL owners meetings last month. Perhaps the most startling comments came from Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay, who felt the risk of playing football was no larger than when taking an aspirin.NFL Spokesperson Greg Aiello couldn’t be reached for comment on these statements.In 2013, the NFL reached a $765 million settlement with over 18,000 former players over head trauma and other concussion-related brain injuries. Suttle says he received about $2,000 as part of the class-action lawsuit.While the NFL has been the target of criticism and lawsuits for many current and former players, youth and collegiate football are largely distanced when it comes to those same head trauma allegations. Dr. David Kaufman, D.O. at Michigan State University, believes levels of football below the NFL have a lesser risk of long-term diseases such as CTE.
“The current bias among most Neurologists is the risk of CTE is far less in college players than professionals. There are only a few brain autopsy reports of college players without professional experience that have shown CTE. This is out of the hundreds of thousands that have played the sport the last several years at hundreds of university and college programs.”
Walker Williams, a mechanical engineering student at the UW and former offensive lineman, is the latest to walk away from the sport before even reaching what’s largely considered the pinnacle of the football mountain.
As heard on The Sports Section | Part 1 Full:
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Sources: http://www.nfl.com/news/story/0ap3000000479460/article/san-francisco-49ers-chris-borland-retiring-from-nfl http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/03/19/chris-borland-retirement_n_6901766.html http://www.c-span.org/video/?c4584941/nfl-official-acknowledges-link-concussions-cte http://www.bu.edu/cte/files/2009/10/McKee-2012-Spectrum-of-CTE1.pdf http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/25/sports/football/nfl-concussion-research-tobacco.html?_r=0 http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/02/sports/football/makers-of-sonys-concussion-film-tried-to-avoid-angering-nfl-emails-show.html http://www.foxsports.com/nfl/story/cte-nfl-owners-comments-jim-irsay-jerry-jones-robert-kraft-john-mara-dan-rooney-032916
By Eric Rogers
Apr. 24 1:46 p.m. CT
MADISON, Wis. — Beginning on Monday, The Zone goes in-depth with former NFL doctors and players to uncover the truth behind concussions and what the league may have been hiding.Who:
Dr. Julian Bailes, M.D., Chairman of the Department of Neurosurgery, Co-Director of the NorthShore Neurological Institute
Dr. Alison Brooks, M.D., M.P.H., University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.
Dr. David Kaufman, D.O., Professor and Chair of Neurology and Ophthalmology, Michigan State University Clinical Center
Jason Suttle, former University of Wisconsin, Denver Broncos, San Francisco 49ers defensive back
Walker Williams, former University of Wisconsin offensive lineman
A Dying Tradition: Concussions and the NFL.
A multi-part series outlining the history of concussions in football, and the associated chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Subjects give their take on the disease and what the NFL is doing about it.
When: Monday through Wednesday, Apr. 25, 26, 27 at 5:06 p.m. CT during the Sports Section and onlineWhere: 106.7 FM / 1670 AM The Zone and Madcitysportszone.comWhy: To uncover reasons behind early player retirement and determine how to prevent CTE before the disease develops
Last winter’s “Concussion” film brought attention to the issue of concussions and the deadly brain disease known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). In a multi-part series, The Zone’s own Eric Rogers talked with leading doctors and former Wisconsin football players, who continue to battle over who’s telling the truth about CTE.
Follow along on-air April 25, 26, and 27 at 5:06 p.m. during The Sports Section and online at MadCitySportsZone.com
Stay up-to-date on social media by using the hashtag #ADyingTradition
MADISON, Wis. – A sort of “tradition” in sports medicine revolves around treating athletes with painkillers that can have damaging long-term effects, while also leading to the possibility of addiction. But what happens when one of the most useful alternatives to opioid painkillers is illegal? Cannabidiol, a non-toxic extract of marijuana also referred to as […]
MADISON, Wis — In March of 2014, sports attorney Jeffrey Kessler filed an antitrust claim against the NCAA arguing that their current model of limiting compensation for student athletes at the cost of a scholarship is against the law. The point of this lawsuit is not to provide an alternative for the NCAA or to receive damages, […]
By Eric Rogers Apr. 28, 2016 MADISON, Wis. — During the airing of The Zone’s exclusive series “A Dying Tradition: Concussions and the NFL,” more has come to light regarding head injuries and the brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Over the last few weeks, former University of Wisconsin and San Francisco 49ers linebacker Chris Borland […]
By Eric Rogers Apr. 27, 2016 “I believe Mr. Miller, in his formal representation of the NFL, has stated publicly and before congress that there is a relationship [between football and chronic traumatic encephalopathy]. Furthermore, this CTE issue is not going away. A benefit to this debate, is that safety in sports has correctly become […]
By Eric Rogers Apr. 26, 2016 “Would I have still decided to play football at the collegiate level knowing what I know now about head injuries and knowing that I’ll get this amount of head injuries? No, I wouldn’t.” Walker Williams, former University of Wisconsin offensive lineman, 2012-2014 The University of Wisconsin has had […]
By Eric Rogers Apr 25, 2016 “We didn’t think that this could happen. We knew it could happen in boxers. We, I guess, assumed the helmet would be protective, but it isn’t.” Julian Bailes, MD, Chairman of the Department of Neurosurgery and Co-Director of the NorthShore Neurological Institute based in Evanston, Ill. In many ways, […]
By Eric Rogers Apr. 24 1:46 p.m. CT MADISON, Wis. — Beginning on Monday, The Zone goes in-depth with former NFL doctors and players to uncover the truth behind concussions and what the league may have been hiding.Who: Dr. Julian Bailes, M.D., Chairman of the Department of Neurosurgery, Co-Director of the NorthShore Neurological Institute Dr. […]
Last winter’s “Concussion” film brought attention to the issue of concussions and the deadly brain disease known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). In a multi-part series, The Zone’s own Eric Rogers talked with leading doctors and former Wisconsin football players, who continue to battle over who’s telling the truth about CTE. Follow along on-air April […]