Could Concussion Settlement increase suicides among former NFL Players?
While we wait for the final details of the proposed Concussion Settlement, there are some big concerns about one aspect of the proposal that could have far reaching implications and devastating consequences for former players, their families and their friends.
There is a provision in the agreement to compensate families of deceased players, including those who killed themselves, if they are diagnosed with CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy). Dr. Bennet Omalu and Dr. Julian Bailes have said that “diagnosis of CTE remains autopsy based,” and that there is “currently no accepted method of diagnosing CTE until post-mortem pathological analysis has been conducted.”
Although there is some promising research to detect CTE in living players, it appears that the Concussion Settlement will only compensate players that are diagnosed with CTE after they have died and their brains have been examined in an autopsy.
Upset by this news, a former player recently sent me an email where he said “If I commit suicide or have someone else kill me in case I chicken out, my brain will highly likely be found with CTE and my family will be “compensated” about $3 million dollars. Jeff, doesn’t this sound like a reasonable resolution? I know it is morbid. I understand that suicide is not an answer to anything, but does the league understand the choices that they are placing in front of us? If I could guarantee my family financial stability for many years to come, where is the question? My children are grown and highly independent, my wife has a job and although I’m sure they would miss me, they would get over it in time and perhaps even recognize the ultimate sacrifice that I would have paid for them. Does the league get this? I recognize that one old, not particularly well known former player dying may not make the news but what if a group collaborated? What if several guys who have considered this in the past came together for the good of the rest and RETIRED ONE LAST TIME?”
His email sent chills down my spine.
In my email response to him I said “Before you consider doing anything as drastic as you mention in your email, please call me. I was extremely disheartened when my friend and fellow Richmond Alumnus, Ray Easterling took his own life without ever giving a hint that he was contemplating suicide. I understood his reasons for doing what he did, but I have to believe there is a better way. Your email will remain totally confidential. Let’s talk.”
We did talk…..and I assured him that his email would continue to remain confidential. I’m not going to reveal what we talked about, but after our phone conversation, I felt very uneasy about the way the Settlement language might actually create such an unintended consequence.
It’s not hard to see why some former players would be considering suicide as a viable option. First of all, we need to understand that their cognitive impairment has already clouded their judgment. Memory loss, dementia and depression are some of the alleged symptoms of CTE. How can a player be held accountable for their actions when they are experiencing these mental conditions?
In a recent ESPN Outside the Lines interview, Tony Dorsett said “I’ve thought about crazy stuff, sort of like, Why do I need to continue going through this?’ I’m too smart a person, I like to think, to take my life, but it’s crossed my mind.”
I’m sure it has crossed minds of a lot of players, but now there might be an incentive to carry through with their suicidal ideation.
How do former players know that their autopsy would show they had CTE? They don’t really know for sure, but consider this: Researchers at Boston University have discovered 28 new cases of chronic brain damage in deceased football players – including 15 who played in the NFL – more than doubling the number of documented cases connecting football to long-term brain disease.
Although the current studies regarding the diagnoses of CTE in living persons has not been conclusively validated by the scientific community, the proposed Concussion Settlement should include language that will compensate players if, or when, the scientific community finally develops a proven procedure for detecting CTE in living persons.
One final thing for my NFL Alumni brothers to consider….
Make sure you have made arrangements to have your brain examined in an autopsy after you die. Your heirs may be very glad that you did.
Additionally, you can help speed up the research by becoming a part of the D.E.T.E.C.T. (Diagnosing and Evaluating Traumatic Encephalopathy Using Clinical Tests) Study: The ultimate goal of this study is to develop methods of diagnosing CTE during life through the use of a variety of tests, including MRI scans (such as diffusion tensor imaging), MRS scans (also known as a “virtual biopsy”), blood tests, and measures of proteins in spinal fluid. Here is a link to the study and what you can do to participate: BU DETECT Study
Your Alumni bother,