The issue of sports and concussions has just reared its ugly head again, as former football star Ray Easterling took his own life. Suffering from depression for years, the 62 year old went so far as to sue the NFL. In August, he joined with six other players to sue the NFL for failing to properly treat players for concussions and for trying to conceal for decades the links between football and brain injury.
As far back as twenty years ago, Ray started to show signs of brain damage and to experience depression and insomnia. Just in the last year, the suicides of other famous sportsmen have been linked to chronic traumatic encephalopathy, caused by repeated blows to the head. It typically leads to depression and anger, but one of the tricky things about the condition is that it can’t be diagnosed until a post-mortem exam is done. Chicago Bear star Dave Duerson was found to have this condition after dying in February 2011.
The life-altering and extremely damaging condition is often referred to as “punch drunk syndrome” and it has been seen in boxers, combat veterans, ice-hockey players and other athletes.
Mrs. Easterling said that she plans to continue her suit against the NFL and force them to set up a fund for injured players and to educate them about the risks. As she said, “Half the time the player puts themselves back in the game, and they don’t know what kind of impact it has.”
The impact of concussions has also been widely discussed in high school and college circles, and legislation has been created to curtail these issues. Thirty two states, at this point, have laws that address student-athlete concussions according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
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Senator Ralph Northam, who is a pediatric neurologist and the primary sponsor of legislation that recently passed in Virginia, said that schools need more consistent guidelines on the evaluation of athletes after a concussion.
Most legislation says that an athlete must leave the competition when a concussion occurs or is suspected and that they can only return to play when a doctor or other medical professional deems them ready.
Unfortunately, it’s too little, too late for athletes like Ray Easterling. Hopefully, however, tragedies of this sort will help to make the public more aware and to increase the checks and balances systems for athletes and soldiers.