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January 14, 2013

Brain Injured NFL Players

Junior Seau took his life in May 2012 with a self-inflicted gunshot wound. A former linebacker for the NFL, Seau played for 20 years with San Diego, Miami, and New England. After his death, his family donated his brain to the National Institutes of Health for research analysis. The report came back positive for chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a neurodegenerative brain disease that can occur after multiple hits to the head.

Seau’s CTE was well-established even though he was never diagnosed with a concussion during his NFL career.

With the ever-growing lawsuit by former players against the NFL, concern has been growing for increased safety in the game at all levels. But what if you’re a first-string player who suffers a concussion? You are encouraged to alert the team coaches and doctors about the injury but then you face being replaced? This happened to Alex Smith of the San Francisco 49ers in November 2012. He was taken out of play due to a concussion and his replacement, rookie Colin Kaepernick, stepped in and remains the team’s starter. The desire to remain a starter despite risk of injury is overwhelming. Just look at what happened to the Washington Redskins quarterback RGIII.

The NFL is advocating for a change in culture for brain injury awareness. But will players report symptoms of a concussion if they believe it could cost them their job? The growing evidence of a relationship between contact in football and brain injuries like CTE is forcing the league to consider new guidelines to protect NFL players.

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