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Dustin Fink’s ‘Concussion Blog’ Comments on Our Recent Posts

Irv Muchnick: Two Articles

http://theconcussionblog.com/2011/06/29/irv-muchnick-two-articles/

And the NFL Band Played On: Concussion Crisis Destined To Become Sports World Counterpart of AIDS Saga (full text)

[originally published 6/24 at http://www.beyondchron.org/articles/And_the_NFL_Band_Played_On_Concussion_Crisis_Destined_To_Become_Sports_World_Counterpart_of_AIDS_Saga_9292.html]

 

by Irvin Muchnick

The absolute power of the National Football League has corrupted our sports culture absolutely. In his recent intemperate email to me, The New York Times’ concussion reporter, Alan Schwarz, complained that I have failed to credit him with uncovering a “conspiracy” in the marketing of flawed helmets to youth football players. But, as I see the larger arc of the story, there was no conspiracy. Rather, I see how Schwarz’s choice of a safely domestic investigative target exposes the diminished ambition behind institutional journalism’s insincerely overheated rhetoric.

Since at the very latest 1994, the NFL has been served ample forensic notice that the sport it markets was growing out of human and medical control. These are not ACL’s and torn shoulder capsules we’re talking about, people; they are the brains of frighteningly large numbers of American males who have participated, in organized fashion and from very early ages, in an activity that is a staple of adult approval and social status.

And what did the league, its fawning media, its co-profiting sponsors, and its frat-pack fans do about it? As little as they could get away with.

As this multi-generational saga takes sharper shape with the rush of new discovered cases of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and with the sentimentally airbrushed back story of NFL player “advocate” Dave Duerson’s suicide, I find “conspiracy” to be a very tepid term, indeed, for the pervasive self-delusion that has gripped all of us for years, for decades. The title of one of historian Barbara Tuchman’s books says it better: The March of Folly. The title of Randy Shilts’ chronicle of the AIDS epidemic says it better still: And the Band Played On.

To be very clear here, we continue to have no evidence – none – that the league leadership grasps this problem at a level more profound than public relations. The new co-chairs of the NFL’s concussion policy committee, Dr. H. Hunt Batjer and Dr. Richard Ellenbogen, were supposed to be making a complete break with the conflicted and unsavory work of their predecessors when they were appointed last year. Don’t make me laugh – it might snap a synapse in my own still barely functioning noodle.

Batjer and Ellenbogen have done nothing at all to squelch the influence of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ University of Pittsburgh Medical Center team, including Joseph Maroon, whose many commercial hats also include the role of a doctor on Twitter for World Wrestling Entertainment. Batjer and Ellenbogen have continued on the NFL’s merry path of “Zackery Lystedt legislation,” in Washington and other states, to raise “concussion awareness” and to codify the purchase and use by public school districts of the Maroon team’s highly dubious for-profit “concussion management software.”

“I defer to the guys who are the experts at football: the competition committee, people like John Madden who actually know the game,” Dr. Ellenbogen said last month.

Once the owners’ lockout of players is out of the way, Commissioner Roger Goodell can get on with the task of loading up the NFL season with more games and more gambling opportunities while he touts the league’s total $20 million investment – taxicab money for a $9-billion-a-year industry – in scandalously dependent and controlling research on brain trauma. Before you know it, he’ll be as comfortable in retirement as his predecessor, Paul Tagliabue, and it’ll be the next regime’s turn for “catch me if you can.”

In December 2009 a Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver named Chris Henry was killed when he fell out of the back of a truck while stalking his fiancée. Henry was one of the circle of bad boys out of West Virginia University and his five-year NFL career was marred by legal scrapes. In June 2010 an autopsy by the West Virginia Brain Injury Research Institute found that Henry had the accumulations of tau protein associated with CTE.

Here is what Ellenbogen told Schwarz for a Times “news analysis”: “I’m really worried that we’re going to get to where if you have a challenging personality, it must be CTE — that’s really a dangerous way of going.We really need to be careful to parse out the underlying personality issues from the underlying injuries. This is probably just one factor among many that can put someone over the edge.”

Really on a roll here, analyst Schwarz clucked, “[I]f concussions turned every player felonious, Troy Aikman and Steve Young would be broadcasting games from C-block. Many players later found with CTE managed not to commit crimes.” The Timesman concluded: “To be truly valuable moving forward, the legacy of the Chris Henry finding will not be to look back and assign blame for players’ past acts, but to look ahead at how future behavior among players at all levels will derive from a cocktail of factors — psychological, neurological, societal, genetic, or sometimes, just being a jerk.”

And thus the disclaimer, which could have been tossed off with a phrase, becomes the centerpiece of the analysis.

At least football participants have the excuse of brain tissue deadened by tau proteins. What is the excuse for all us spectators?

Irvin Muchnick (http://muchnick.net) is author of CHRIS & NANCY: The True Story of the Benoit Murder-Suicide and Pro Wrestling’s Cocktail of Death.

WWE Releases Chris Benoit Story Figure Chavo Guerrero

As they did referee Scott Armstrong before bringing him back this year, WWE has parted company with wrestler Chavo Guerrero. Like Armstrong, Guerrero had received Chris Benoit’s final text messages during the horrific double murder/suicide incident that took place, coincidentally, four years ago this weekend.

David Bixenspan of Cageside Seats reviews some of this history at http://www.cagesideseats.com/2011/6/25/2243946/wwe-releases-chavo-guerrero-who-claims-that-he-quit.

Bixenspan doesn’t mention here something else about Guerrero: the time he got knocked unconscious on live television and was attended to by, among others, Stephanie McMahon Levesque – who later would tell Congressional investigators the bald-faced lie that she had never been aware of a single occupational concussion at WWE. See the July 2010 item about Guerrero’s 2004 concussion by Cageside Seats’ Keith Harris at http://www.cagesideseats.com/2010/7/7/1557283/did-wwe-downplay-the-severity-of.

 

Irv Muchnick

View the Dissident NFL Retirees’ Washington Press Conference at Dave Pear’s Blog

Two days ago I posted comments by one-time San Francisco 49er Super Bowler George Visger, who has lived for nearly three decades with a crippling head injury. Visger was part of the delegation speaking on June 20 at the National Press Club in Washington in support of the lawsuit led by ex-Minnesota Viking great Carl Eller. Dave Pear, who heads the best-organized group of National Football League retirees lobbying for better pension and disability benefits, has posted the video at http://davepear.com/blog/2011/06/retired-football-players-june-20th-press-conference/.

A few notes from here:

* The mix of faces at this event included not only Eller but also other African Americans in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, such as Lem Barney and Irv Cross (who moderated the conference). This thoroughly refutes the whisper campaign by NFL Players Association leadership that criticism of it is racially based.

* A number of current NFL players showed up to support the Eller group. I will list all their names in a separate post. While Tom Brady and the Manning brothers sue the league to end the lockout over their inalienable right to hoard $90 million a year each, or whatever the traffic will bear for their services, it is heartening to see that a contingent of their contemporaries maintains a broader perspective.

* Though the general abandonment of retired players is a legitimate economic and moral issue, I am not going to belabor all of their grievances. From a public health standpoint, there is a crucial difference between orthopedic injuries and brain trauma. What has brought us to a national tipping point, in my view, is the league’s denial of a generation of evidence with respect to the latter.

 

Irv Muchnick

Chicago Tribune: ‘Doubts Cast on Concussion Remedies’

Health reporter Julie Deardorff has an excellent piece today at http://www.chicagotribune.com/health/ct-met-concussion-products-health-20110625,0,761365,full.story. Some highlights:

  • “Though parents routinely ask for a ‘concussion-proof’ helmet, there is no way to prevent a brain injury … short of not participating in the sport.”
  • “[I]nstead of seeking out products, … parents should put their energy into familiarizing themselves with the often subtle symptoms of concussion and asking coaches about teams’ plans for addressing possible concussions on the field.”
  • “Critics say the [neurocognitive] computer programs are unreliable and may actually increase risks because they likely have a high ‘false negative’ rate, meaning they may show an athlete has recovered when he or she is still cognitively impaired.”

 

Irv Muchnick

Former San Francisco 49er George Visger Comments on Today’s Article at Beyond Chron

This was just posted as a comment to the previous item on the blog. But it warrants its own headline and posting.

Irvin

I agree with you, but think Ellenbogen is trying to do the right thing.  I played DT for the 49ers in 80 & 81 when I developed hydrocephalus from numerous concussions, and underwent emergency VP Shunt brain surgery at age 22.  My shunt failed (in Mexico fishing) just 4 months after we won Super Bowl XVI and my brother brought me home in a coma.  I under went 2 more brain surgeries 10 hours apart and was given last rites.  I was also given the hospital bills, and had creditors on me for nearly 5 years till I successfully sued the 49ers for WORKERS COMP!  I am now on brain surgery # 9, multiple gran mal seizures and currently taking my 6th different seizure med since starting on them over 25 years ago.  The side effects have been catastrophic on my everyday life.

Ellenbogen called me ~ 1 1/2 years ago when I called him out on Dave Pear’s blog immediately after he was hired.  He and I correspond regularly now.   He asked I submit suggested rule changes which he would present to the NFL Rules Committee.  Many of my suggestions have been implemented today (much to the chagrin of players).  Only difference I had was I wanted all fines for head to head hits levied at the owners not the players.

I was one of 4 ex players and 5 NFL Hall of Fame players asked to speak at a press conference in Washington DC last Monday, prior to the Carl Eller vs NFL lawsuit.

We need more folks like you not afraid to air the NFL’s dirty laundry.

George Visger
SF 49ers 80 & 81
Survivor of 9 NFL Caused Emergency VP Shunt Brain Surgeries
Benefactor of ZERO NFL Benefits

‘And the NFL Band Played On’ … today at Beyond Chron

And the NFL Band Played On: Concussion Crisis Destined to Become Sports World Counterpart of AIDS Saga

by Irvin Muchnick

The absolute power of the National Football League has corrupted our sports culture absolutely. In his recent intemperate email to me, The New York Times’ concussion reporter, Alan Schwarz, complained that I have failed to credit him with uncovering a “conspiracy” in the marketing of flawed helmets to youth football players. But, as I see the larger arc of the story, there was no conspiracy. Rather, I see how Schwarz’s choice of a safely domestic investigative target exposes the diminished ambition behind institutional journalism’s insincerely overheated rhetoric.

Since at the very latest 1994, the NFL has been served ample forensic notice that the sport it markets was growing out of human and medical control. These are not ACL’s and torn shoulder capsules we’re talking about, people; they are the brains of frighteningly large numbers of American males who have participated, in organized fashion and from very early ages, in an activity that is a staple of adult approval and social status.

And what did the league, its fawning media, its co-profiting sponsors, and its frat-pack fans do about it? As little as they could get away with.

CONTINUED TODAY AT BEYOND CHRON, THE SAN FRANCISCO ONLINE NEWSPAPER:

http://www.beyondchron.org/articles/And_the_NFL_Band_Played_On_Concussion_Crisis_Destined_To_Become_Sports_World_Counterpart_of_AIDS_Saga_9292.html

More From Matt Chaney: ‘Research of NFL Brain Trauma Sputters Along’

Research of NFL Brain Sputters Along; Epidemiologic Study Nowhere in Sight for Afflicted Players

http://blog.4wallspublishing.com/2011/06/23/research-for-nfl-brain-trauma-sputters-along.aspx

Money quote:

Critics of autopsy-based NFL research contend large-scale epidemiological study of living players is urgently needed, valid random clinical trial conducted by a multidisciplinary team of experts and preferably free from influence by the likely funding sources of football. Large control groups must be assembled and quickly, among challenges, say observers such as epidemiologist Charles E. Yesalis, ScD, professor emeritus of Penn State University.

No party among the NFL, the NFLPA and NCAA has yet to support such ambitious, costly research while the government has expressed no interest, and other potential sponsors aren’t forthcoming at moment.

Smaller studies are underway, nevertheless, and findings and expert opinion increasingly suggest epidemic parameters for cognitive impairment in players of pro football, if not those of collegiate, school and youth levels.

‘And the NFL Band Played On: Concussion Crisis Destined to Become Sports World Counterpart of AIDS Saga’ …

… headline of new piece tomorrow at Beyond Chron.

Meet the New NFL Concussion Czars … Same As the Old NFL Concussion Czars

We all know what happened to Congressman Anthony Weiner of New York. Last year, before the Democrats lost control of the House of Representatives and he lost his own seat in a personal scandal, Weiner was the second most effective member of the Judiciary Committee putting heat on the National Football League for its unforgivable suppression and denial of research on chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

(The most effective committee member was Linda Sanchez of California, who in 2009 committee hearings drew the analogy between the NFL and the tobacco industry.)

In March 2010 the NFL’s concussion policy panel, called the Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Committee, got a new name and new co-chairs. Now known as the Head, Neck and Spine Medical Committee, it is jointly chaired by Dr. H. Hunt Batjer, of Northwestern Memorial Hospital outside Chicago, and Dr. Richard Ellenbogen, of Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. Batjer and Ellenbogen replaced the disgraced Dr. Ira Casson and Dr. David Viano, who in turn had replaced the disgraced Dr. Elliot Pellman.

Though Batjer and Ellenbogen promised to sweep out the Augean stable of league head injury custodians, they have done nothing of the sort. For example, Dr. Joseph Maroon, whose corrupt involvement in this sordid history has been extensively documented by me, remains on the committee.

And in July the two new co-chairs reversed a commitment not to release an ambiguously worded NFL helmet safety study with limited or no value for the broader universe of amateur helmet consumers. In the good coverage of this narrow issue by The New York Times’ Alan Schwarz, Ellenbogen explained that he decided the study was OK “as long as statements were phrased very carefully.” Congressman Weiner blasted this “disturbing step backwards.”

Meanwhile, Batjer and Ellenbogen – who are supposed to be independent but whose public statements get screened by the NFL office – forged ahead with mom-and-apple-pie projects, such as the toughening up of language in posters warning players of the risk of brain injury.

Last month Ellenbogen told The Wall Street Journal: “I defer to the guys who are the experts at football: the competition committee, people like John Madden who actually know the game.” (The money-grubbing Madden knows the game so well that the new edition of his bestselling video game bows to the new “concussion awareness.”) For a good analysis of Ellenbogen’s flawed stance, see “For the NFL, Is More Protection Really the Answer to Its Concussion Quandary?” by Mike Seely of Seattle Weekly, http://blogs.seattleweekly.com/dailyweekly/2011/05/for_the_nfl_is_more_protection.php.

 

Irv Muchnick


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