Twenty-two-year-old Ohio State football player Kosta Karageorge had a history of concussions. Though we don’t know the inciting event that resulted in his suicide, research suggests that athletes who sustain concussions are more likely to develop depression, disorientation, and suicide. How so? You might ask. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative disease of the brain, originally called “punch-drunk” syndrome in boxers, is seen in any athlete who sustains repeated head trauma, especially football players. It’s not unreasonable to assume that Karageorge was a victim of this mysterious disease, which can only be diagnosed on autopsy. “I am sorry if I am an embarrassment but these concussions have my head all f***ed up,” Karageorge said three days before he shot himself (www.washingtonpost.com/football-player-kosta-karageorge). According to his sister, Karageorge experienced confusion and mood swings, symptoms, which, in addition to aggression and gait disturbances, are not uncommon in those with CTE (www.marquettewire.org/karageorges-death-shows-concussion).
Though football players of any age may suffer from CTE, younger athletes are particularly vulnerable. Because their brains are not fully developed, they are at risk for second impact syndrome, a potentially fatal condition that occurs when a player sustains a concussion then returns to the game and suffers a subsequent concussion before the first one has had time to heal (www.usatoday.com/highschool football deaths). More sad news: the prevalence of depression among teenagers who sustain concussions is three times higher (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24355628).
If you haven’t been following the news about brain trauma in football players, you might, or might not, be surprised to learn that, out of one hundred twenty-eight deceased players, as many as one hundred one had CTE (www.pbs.org/concussion). What steps are being taken to prevent football players from these unnecessary and brutal deaths? Both the National Football League and the National Collegiate Athletic Association settled class-action lawsuits in 2013 challenging concussion protocols. But, finally, this past November, a former football player, who sustained concussions playing the game, filed the first class action lawsuit against the Illinois State High Athletics Association.
Another young football player has also come out about his history of concussions, and subsequent plunge into depression. Though heartbreaking, his story will leave you more than informed; it will make you pause and think twice before you enroll your child in high-school football (www.huffingtonpost.com/football-concussions).
Let’s take a moment of silence for the others who chose to end their lives because of football (www.ajc.com/football-suicide):
Owen Thomas: The first, and youngest, collegiate player diagnosed with CTE.
Terry Long: An offensive lineman for the Steelers. Shot himself on June 7, 2005. Age forty-five.
Andre Waters: Played for the Steelers and the Cardinals. Shot himself on Nov. 20, 2006, at age forty-four.
Shane Dronett: A defensive lineman in the NFL. On Jan. 21, 2009, shot himself. Age forty-eight.
Dave Duerson: Played for the Bears, Giants and Cardinals. On Feb. 17, 2011, he shot himself in the chest. Age fifty.
Ray Easterling: Played for the Falcons. On April 19, 2012. Shot himself in his Richmond, Va., home. Age sixty-two.
Junior Seau: A linebacker for the Chargers, Dolphins and Patriots. On May 2, 2012, shot himself in the chest. Age forty-three.
Jovan Belcher: A linebacker for the Kansas City Chiefs. Shot and killed his girlfriend, then shot and killed himself. He was twenty-five.
Paul Oliver: Played for the University of Georgia, then the Chargers. Shot and killed himself on Sept. 24, 2013. Age twenty-nine.
If you’re looking for a holiday gift for a football fan, or a non-fan, check out Steve Almond’s Book, Against Football. An entire chapter is devoted to football and traumatic brain injuries. The research is both startling, and disturbing.