I went to a very cool event last night here at Northwestern, sponsored by a number of groups including the Medical Humanties and Bioethics program. They brought New York Times editor Jason Stallman to speak about series of articles the NYT published (written by Alan Schwarz) about football players and the long-term effects of concussions they sustained while playing.
In addition to Jason, the program also featured commentaries by physicians who work directly with players both on collegiate and professional teams, and a group discussion with many participants who are also neurosurgeons/neurologists.
The end result was a fascinating conversation that made me think a lot about being an NFL fan. I know that concussions have been front and center lately, both with the congressional hearing and high-profile players like Ben Roethlisberger and Kurt Warner missing games (to the chagrin of some of their teammates) after suffering concussions.
What I didn’t know was just how many former players are suffering from the after-effects of brain injury, such as depression, dementia, and even suicide. In fact, a recent study commissioned by the NFL and conducted by the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research found that, in men ages 30-49, Alzheimer’s Disease and other memory-related problems have been diagnosed in 19 times more NFL players than members of the general population. The study isn’t perfect (it was not peer-reviewed and it was conducted over the phone- more on that here) but other, independent studies suggest similar links.
Thankfully, while denying the connection in the past, the NFL has finally stepped up and instated a new policy that prohibits players who suffer concussions from returning to the field during the same game. However, this is just one, very small step toward fixing a big problem. (Read more…)