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Brain Injury Dangers Highlighted by Suicide of Football Star Dave Duerson

Years spent playing football in high school, at the University of Notre Dame and on Super Bowl-winning New York Giants and Chicago Bears teams may have taken such a toll on Dave Duerson's brain that he took his own life in mid-February 2011. He was 50.

After retiring as a player, Duerson remained active with the National Football League, most notably serving on panels for organizations that ensured former footballers who developed dementia or Alzheimer disease could receive disability payments and adequate medical care. Like others involved in such efforts, Duerson heard increasing evidence that football players suffered disproportionately from a brain-wasting condition called chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

CTE's symptoms include difficulty thinking, depression and trouble speaking. Until recently, only boxers were know to suffer CTE, which led doctors to routinely use the term dementia pugilistica when making diagnoses. The only confirmed cause of CTE is repeated concussions.

It is unclear how many concussions Duerson sustained in his decades of football. What is clear is that blows to head during games or practice were only recently perceived to be serious problems requiring serious treatment. It is also clear that moments before he shot himself in the chest, Duerson, most likely thinking he had CTE or some other degenerative brain disease, requested that his brain be donated to science for study.

High schools and youth sports leagues in North Carolina (NC), South Carolina (SC), and Virginia (VA) have recently instituted rules designed to prevent head-to-head contact, returning too early from concussions, and limiting injuries from balls, bats and other equipment. A project is also under way at Virginia Tech to ensure that coaches and parents can receive unbiased, comparative information on how much protection different helmets provide.

As a lawyer who has represented victims of concussions and traumatic brain injuries in court, I have seen firsthand how debilitating those types of trauma can be. As a parent whose children participate in high school and middle school sports, I fully support programs to reduce on-field concussions. The fewer former athletes who suffer the apparent fate of Dave Duerson, the better.

EJL
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