Thanksgiving is a day when families gather and reconnect, with food and memories — and football.
What do you think Tony Dorsett’s Thanksgiving was like?
Do you think he enjoyed watching football? His old team, the Dallas Cowboys?
Or was he angry? Depressed? If he was with his family, were they happy — or scared?
On a day when we supposedly reflect on what to be thankful for, you have to wonder how many former NFL players don’t include their football career on that list? Or even remember what they are thankful for?
Dorsett, the 1976 Heisman Trophy award winner and Hall of Fame Cowboys running back, told ESPN several months ago that he is suffering from loss of memory, depression and other symptoms related to brain damage.
“My quality of living has changed drastically and it deteriorates every day,” he said.
The concussion crisis continues to shadow the NFL, with no answer in sight to stop the damage. However, an answer may finally be on the horizon — if not the answer that those in the business of football want.
For the first time, doctors have accurately diagnosed severe brain damage in a living former NFL player. In other words, players and their families may not have to wait until they are on a slab undergoing an autopsy, having their brains cut open, to know if they are suffering from CTE — chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative disorder caused by multiple concussions.
“This is a major milestone,” said lead researcher Dr. Bennet Omalu, the Nigerian-born pathologist who discovered the first case of CTE in a former NFL player in 2005.
The player was former Minnesota Vikings linebacker Fred McNeill, who played from 1974 to 1985 and later became a lawyer. They could only confirm the CTE diagnosis after he died in 2015, but Dr. Omalu had made the diagnosis in 2012, when McNeil, suffering from brain damage, participated in a study by Dr. Omalu and was injected with the experimental drug FDDNP and then had his brain scanned. McNeil was
While not named in the study, McNeill’s family confirmed his identity to the Chicago Tribune.
Previously, CTE had been detected only after a subject’s death via brain dissection. A study earlier this year by the CTE Center at Boston University showed that 110 of 111 deceased former NFL players had CTE.
“The comparison is validating that FDDNP is doing what we believe it should be doing in the brain,” Dr. Omalu told The Washington Times. “So this is now encouraging us to take it to the next level, which is the clinical phase trial. This is not an end; this is just a milestone.”
A milestone, or a nightmare for the NFL and its current players.
If a test exists that becomes a regular part of the examination of retired players suffering from symptoms of brain damage, why wouldn’t that test be part of the NFL examination process for current players?
Why wouldn’t the league make it mandatory for all of its players to undergo those tests?
Why wouldn’t the NFL Player’s Association demand that such a test be part of annual team examinations as part of their labor agreement?
Would the players want to know?
That last question is relevant in light of the Seattle Seahawks being investigated by the league for possibly failing to use proper concussion protocol procedure after a hit to Russell Wilson in a game against the Arizona Cardinals several weeks ago.
Wilson suffered a shot to his chin by the helmet of Karlos Danby. He was sent off the field by officials, but just for one play and then he returned, never undergoing a concussion protocol exam. It appeared that Wilson simply ran back on the field on his own after one play before the testing could even begin.
“I got smacked in the jaw pretty good,” Wilson told reporters. “I wasn’t concussed or anything. I felt completely clear. I was just trying to move my jaw. I was laying on the ground for a second trying to move my jaw, and I think (referee) Walt (Anderson) thought maybe I was injured. I told him I was good, but he said, ‘You’ve got to come off the field.’”
A lot of good that did.
Wilson’s actions illustrate one of the problems that those who want to protect these players would face if there is a test that would show them while they are playing that they are heading for a shortened life filled with depression and sadness for them and their families.
If players like Russell Wilson don’t even want to undergo sideline testing to protect themselves, would they be willing to take a test that would put the future of their NFL careers in question?
Would they care about Thanksgiving dinners with the families years after saying goodbye to the game?
• Thom Loverro hosts his weekly podcast “Cigars & Curveballs” Wednesdays available on iTunes, Google Play and the reVolver podcast network.
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