Opinion

Perils in sports must be taken seriously

An editorial from The Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT, W.Va. — The symptoms include memory loss, confusion, impaired judgement, impulse control issues, aggression, depression, anxiety, thoughts of or suicidal tendency, dementia.

And doctors cannot definitively diagnose it until after death.

It sounds like Alzheimer’s. But it isn’t.

It’s the disease that occurs in the brain of people with a history of repeated head trauma — chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE for short.

We’ve had some kind of knowledge about the disorder since at least the 1920s. Remember how old boxers used to be described as punch drunk?

But it’s not showing up just in boxers who put themselves into the ring and expose themselves to hit after hit to the head. Now it’s showing up in people who wear helmets that are supposed to protect them. Kevlar helmets worn by soldiers in battle. Helmets emblazoned with a football team’s mascot.

And it’s not just showing up in professional football players. CTE is being found in people who stopped playing ball in college. Or, shockingly, high school.

We kind of know the science behind the cause of CTE. If the head suffers repeated trauma, abnormal proteins call “tau” are produced in the brain. Those proteins tangle blood vessels and stop proper blood flow, which kills the nerves and their pathways. And that creates very distinct changes in personality and function.

How horrible it must feel to be spiraling down the road to completely losing yourself and every memory you have, unable to control rage or depression. Look at two standout NFL players, Dave Duerson and Junior Seau. Both apparently knew the path they were going down and decided to end their lives before they destroyed the lives of those around them. Both shot themselves in the chest, and we can assume that it was because the two men wanted someone to study their brains postmortem and figure out what was wrong.

And maybe fix it…

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