Brain Damage 

Today's New York Times has a chilling story about links between repeated concussions and depression, Alzheimer's-like symptoms, and suicide. It centers on the story of Andre Waters, a former Philadelphia Eagle defensive back who committed suicide last year at the age of 44. At one point in his career, Waters told a reporter he "stopped counting" the number of concussions he'd sustained once the tally reached 15.

Pathological examination of Waters' brain tissue showed degeneration akin to that of an 85-year-old man with Alzheimer's disease.

The level of consistent head-smashing is far greater in football than baseball, but any Giant fan immediately thinks of Mike Matheny. It's obvious though not official he isn't coming back; a story like this should remove any doubt. Get out while you can, Mike. And anyone who plays sports or perhaps more importantly coaches youth sports should take heed -- it's not just getting your bell rung.

The Times story -- written by Alan Schwarz, who usually covers baseball -- also mentions (too briefly, in my opinion) that the NFL, which has a "mild traumatic brain injury committee," has consistently underplayed the effects of concussions by conducting studies that "went against just about every study on sports concussions published in the last 20 years," according to the former college football player who spurred the examination of Waters' brain tissue.

Now there's a tantalizing thread for reporters to follow. If indeed there's been a "Big Tobacco"-like cover-up, it makes the Giants' willingness to let go of the machismo and acknowledge the severity of multiple concussions not just admirable, but perhaps revolutionary in the way professional athletes are treated.


UPDATE: A well-informed reader just informed me that ESPN The Magazine did an in-depth look last fall at the NFL's concussion policy and the doctor in charge of its Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Committee. It's scathing. The thread that I wrote earlier reporters should follow? ESPN's Peter Keating followed it, and it seems to lead to gross negligence on the part of the NFL.


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