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As the Suicides and Brain Injuries Pile Up, Can Football Ever Be Safe?

Worth asking before more lives are ruined.

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Today we’re going to be actually doing a press conference talking about the fact that the only place that—one of the only places that doesn’t set any limits to how frequently and how many days you can hit each other is high school football. For example, in the state of Illinois where I played high school football, we weren’t allowed to hit in the summer. Now, Illinois has 20 days of summer contact. It’s kind of bizarre.

AMY GOODMAN: Chris, a lot of people have learned about this through the suicides of football players. And one of those football players who actually shot himself, but instead of shooting himself in the head, shot himself in the chest, because he wanted his—he wanted to donate his brain to science to study.

CHRIS NOWINSKI: Yeah, Dave Duerson, a former Chicago Bear. I actually grew up in Chicago, so I grew up watching him. And he actually gave me a scholarship when I was 17, from the National Football Foundation. He, you know, was one of the most successful guys post- NFL career, was on the board of trustees at Notre Dame, ran a multimillion-dollar food distribution. At 45, started having problems with headaches, memory issues, and especially impulse control—got violent with his family, got violent with his children. His wife divorced him. He ended up $20 million in debt. And, you know, left a note asking for us to study his brain, so, I think—so that we could show it wasn’t him, the Dave Duerson we all knew, that did all those terrible things. And it wasn’t. He had an advanced case of  CTE. It was very tragic.

AMY GOODMAN: Again, CTE, chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Chris Nowinski, your Sports Legacy Institute and your work at Boston University now, you are—you have the brains of various football players? You are collecting this as evidence?

CHRIS NOWINSKI: Right, because, you know, there never was a center in the world dedicated to this disease. And the beginning of the study of any disease has to start with knowing what you’re dealing with. And so we started this brain bank in 2008. We now have the brains of over 140 athletes, over 100 of which have turned up positive for this disease—not just football players: ice hockey players, rugby players, boxing, professional wrestling, and some more sports that we’re going to introduce this year. And it’s not just even just athletes: military veterans, battered spouses, epileptics with dozens of falls. So it’s—you know, this is a disease that we didn’t pay attention to, we didn’t understand, and now we really have to catch up and confront.

AMY GOODMAN: Chris Nowinski, I want to thank you so much for being with us and for your work. He’s a former Harvard football player, former professional wrestler, leading expert on sports-related head injuries, author of  Head Games: Football’s Concussion Crisis, now co-founded the Sports Legacy Institute.

 

 
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