If you think you’ve read it all before, you haven’t.
The piece, expertly researched and written by Jeanne Marie Laskas, reads like a medical thriller. It lays out the uncomfortable tug-of-war between the NFL and a group led by a determined young pathologist and one of the world’s foremost neurosurgeons. The battleground is the brains of dead NFL players who, to put it bluntly, went crazy from repeated blows to the head.
It began in 2002 with Bennet Omalu, a Pennsylvania pathologist, examining the brain of Steelers Hall of Famer Mike Webster who, when he died at the age of 50, was addled, barely functioning and living at times in a truck outside his attorney’s office.
After Webster, Omalu studied the brains of former NFL players Terry Long, Andre Waters, Justin Strzelczyk, Tom McHale and professional wrestler Chris Benoit.
All of whom, Omalu found, showed a buildup of proteins which Laskas describes as “kind of like sludge, clogging up the works, killing cells in regions responsible for mood, emotions and executive functioning.” It is a condition that Omalu originally termed Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE).
Yet Omalu’s work has been repeatedly dismissed or explained away by doctors for the NFL’s Mild Traumatic Brain Injury committee, Laskas writes.
“There are times I wish I never looked at Mike Webster’s brain,” Omalu says. “It has dragged me into worldly affairs I do not want to be associated with. Human meanness, wickedness and selfishness. People trying to cover up, to control how information is released. I started this not knowing I was walking into a minefield. That is my only regret.”
Omalu’s work eventually gained the attention of Dr. Julian Bailes. A renowned neurosurgeon and the chair of the West Virginia University Department of Neurosurgery, Bailes worked for 10 years as the Steelers’ team doctor.
Bailes helped shepherd Omalu’s groundbreaking discoveries of tau protein buildup through the initial dismissiveness of the NFL. Bailes is cautiously optimistic that the NFL has moved past trying to slap down their work and is ready to work with them toward concussion prevention.
In a separate interview about the GQ article, Bailes told NBCSports.com, “I don’t want to bash the NFL. I love football and I love the NFL. It’s a great business and there are many great men and women working in it. The purpose of my criticisms in the article and going forward is to spur action to make the future of violent, contact sports safer.”
If nothing is done, Bailes says, “It’s going to get worse.”
The NFL had no comment on the research from Bailes and Omalu other than a statement given before Super Bowl XLII in Feb.
Nobody wants to think about the aftereffects of the spectacular and violent hit that leaves a wide receiver at the edge of consciousness and a cornerback’s head ringing.
Bailes does. And he logically explains why the danger is ever-increasing.
“Albert Einstein tells us that kinetic energy (the extra energy an object has due to its motion) is equal to mass times velocity squared,” Bailes said.
So, he explains, the 250-pound linebacker moving at 20 miles per hour brings far more than 250 pounds of force when he hits his target. How much?
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