Duerson Tragedy Sheds Light on Larger Issue for NFL

The death of former NFL All-Pro Dave Duerson has helped to shed light on head trauma in the NFL.

With the recent news of Dave Duerson’s unfortunate passing, the implications surrounding brain trauma are once again a relevant fixture in the media. The Chicago Bears great shot himself to death on Thursday February 17, according to the New York Times. His last requests came in the form of a text message, “ ‘Please, see that my brain is given to the NFL’s brain bank.’ ”

 In recent weeks the tragic news has stunned players around the NFL and throughout the sports world. Duerson, an all-American at Notre Dame and two-time Super Bowl Champion retired in 1993 after a career of being known as one of the NFL’s heaviest hitters. After his after the completion of his athletic career, Duerson went into the food hospitality industry and continued to stay active the NFLPA. More specifically he took part on a panel for the players association that reviewed retired player’s claims under the NFL disability plan.

Duerson read hundreds of applications that encompassed detailed doctors’ reports of players with multiple injuries. As a common theme, many of the retirees were suffering from similar symptoms of the onset of demensia. Several of the retirees had received enough damage to require full-time care.

By 2007 Duerson began to fall onto tough times. His company filed for bankruptcy and his home went into foreclosure followed by an ensuing domestic dispute. Soon after, he filed for divorce from his wife of several years. Those close to him in his final days remember his difficulty with short-term memory recall that was becoming increasingly significant. Duerson was also falling deeper and deeper into depression, even before 2007, complaining of blurred vision and pain, his ex-wife said, “on the left side of his brain.”

Many of the actions that Duerson displayed were symptomatic of the onset chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). CTE is a devastating condition of deteriorating brain capacity that can eventually lead to Alzheimer’s down the road. Under normal conditions some people are more genetically predisposed than others to develop the condition, but with the repeated traumatic brain injuries that accompany the collisions of professional football, at times having a force of over 120Gs, there is strong and justified suspicion of the direct link between the short term trauma and the lingering after effects that can develop into CTE.  Boston University researchers will have the opportunity to examine the evidence of the former defensive back’s brain over the next several months to scrutinize these claims.

After seeing countless similar stories of mental decline from the medical claims of his peers, it is understandable, though heartbreaking to see the decisive actions that Duerson took to end his life. It is not unjustified to assume that he saw on a day to day basis the damage that had been done to his peers’ bodies and the traumas of his playing days were being to haunt him as well.

 In light of the similar stories that are the former players’ lives after their playing days are over, the NFL has worked to reduce brain injury by implementing rule changes and improved protocols for dealing with brain trauma. Unfortunately, only so much can be done. Much of the lasting brain damage lies within the physics of the game. Many argue that improvements to protective gear such as helmets can help to significantly reduce brain injuries. Improved helmet construction has helped to reduce injuries caused by the linear forces of hits, but has no effect on the rotational forces that are responsible for a majority of the concussions on the field today (Head Trauma in the NFL) leaving players still helplessly exposed to the risk of concussion.

The dire consequences that brain trauma can cause should be of great concern to those that currently play the game, even at the high school level. Education is critical to helping reduce the seriousness of injuries and long-lasting effects of brain trauma. Players need to have a strong grasp of the symptoms to understand when they need to stay out of the game and on the sideline. Six players on NFL rosters today and over one hundred retirees have pledged to give their brains up to research after they die, signifying the realism of the problem. Unfortunately many of the players have a laze-faire attitude about concussive injuries as Baltimore Ravens center Matt Birk recently put it best, “It’s almost now to the point that — not that it’s not tragic — but now it’s almost becoming common, some former players with some form of brain problems. Is it something that I think about? Yeah, absolutely. There’s a little bit of, ‘Well, it’s not going to happen to me.’ ”

Written By Trevor Mooney



NY TIMES: N.F.L. Players Shaken by Duerson’s Suicide Message

NY TIMES: A Suicide, a Last Request, a Family’s Questions

Webpress: Head Trauma in the NFL

Trevor Mooney played college football at the University of Delaware as a tight end #84 and was a member of the ESPN Academic All-Region team and ESPN All-American Finalist.


About trevormooney
A longtime resident of Mission Viejo, California, Trevor Mooney is a former Division I ESPN Academic All-Region Student Athlete at the University of Delaware.

One Response to Duerson Tragedy Sheds Light on Larger Issue for NFL

  1. Pingback: Art of Weightlifting and Conditioning « Trevor Mooney's Blog

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