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the Talking Can
01-27-2009, 11:16 AM
Dead athletes' brains show damage from concussions

By Stephanie Smith
CNN Medical Producer


(CNN) -- For years after his NFL career ended, Ted Johnson could barely muster the energy to leave his house.
In healthy brain tissue, virtually no protein tangles, which show up as brown spots, are visible.

"I'd [leave to] go see my kids for maybe 15 minutes," said Johnson. "Then I would go back home and close the curtains, turn the lights off and I'd stay in bed. That was my routine for two years.

"Those were bad days."

These days, the former linebacker is less likely to recount the hundreds of tackles, scores of quarterback sacks or the three Super Bowl rings he earned as a linebacker for the New England Patriots. He is more likely to talk about suffering more than 100 concussions.

"I can definitely point to 2002 when I got back-to-back concussions. That's where the problems started," said Johnson, who retired after those two concussions. "The depression, the sleep disorders and the mental fatigue."

Until recently, the best medical definition for concussion was a jarring blow to the head that temporarily stunned the senses, occasionally leading to unconsciousness. It has been considered an invisible injury, impossible to test -- no MRI, no CT scan can detect it.

But today, using tissue from retired NFL athletes culled posthumously, the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy (CSTE) is shedding light on what concussions look like in the brain. The findings are stunning. Far from innocuous, invisible injuries, concussions confer tremendous brain damage. That damage has a name: chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

CTE has thus far been found in the brains of five out of five former NFL players. On Tuesday afternoon, researchers at the CSTE will release study results from the sixth NFL player exhibiting the same kind of damage.


"What's been surprising is that it's so extensive," said Dr. Ann McKee, a neuropathologist at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Bedford, Massachusetts, and co-director of the CSTE. "It's throughout the brain, not just on the superficial aspects of the brain, but it's deep inside."

CSTE studies reveal brown tangles flecked throughout the brain tissue of former NFL players who died young -- some as early as their 30s or 40s.

McKee, who also studies Alzheimer's disease, says the tangles closely resemble what might be found in the brain of an 80-year-old with dementia.

"I knew what traumatic brain disease looked like in the very end stages, in the most severe cases," said McKee. "To see the kind of changes we're seeing in 45-year-olds is basically unheard of."

The damage affects the parts of the brain that control emotion, rage, hypersexuality, even breathing, and recent studies find that CTE is a progressive disease that eventually kills brain cells.

Chris Nowinski knows well the impact of concussions. He was a football star at Harvard before wrestling professionally with World Wrestling Entertainment.

In one moment, his dreams of a long career wrestling were dashed by a kick to his chin. That kick, which caused Nowinski to black out and effectively ended his career, capped a career riddled with concussions.

"My world changed," said Nowinski. "I had depression. I had memory problems. My head hurt for five years."

Nowinski began searching for studies, and what he found startled him.

"I realized when I was visiting a lot of doctors, they weren't giving me very good answers about what was wrong with my head," said Nowinski. "I read [every study I could find] and I realized there was a ton of evidence showing concussions lead to depression, and multiple concussion can lead to Alzheimer's."

Nowinski decided further study was needed, so he founded the Sports Legacy Institute along with Dr. Robert Cantu, a neurosurgeon and co-director of the Neurologic Sports Injury Center at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. The project solicits for study the brains of ex-athletes who suffered multiple concussions.

Once a family agrees to donate the brain, it is delivered to scientists at the CSTE to look for signs of damage.

So far, the evidence of CTE is compelling.

The Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, along with other research institutions, identified traumatic encephalopathy in the brains of late NFL football players John Grimsley, Mike Webster, Andre Waters, Justin Strzelczyk and Terry Long.

Grimsley died of an accidental gunshot wound to the chest. Webster, Long and Strzelczyk all died after long bouts of depression, while Waters committed suicide in 2006 at age 44.

"Guys were dying," said Nowinski. "The fact of the matter was guys were dying because they played sports 10 or 20 years before."

So far, around 100 athletes have consented to have their brains studied after they die.

Ted Johnson was one of the first to sign up. He said he believes that concussions he suffered while playing football explain the anger, depression and throbbing headaches that occasionally still plague him.

Johnson said he played through concussions because he, like many other NFL athletes, did not understand the consequences. He has publicly criticized the NFL for not protecting players like him.

"They don't want you to know," said Johnson. "It's not like when you get into the NFL there's a handout that says 'These are the effects of multiple concussions so beware.' "

In a statement, the NFL indicated that their staffs take a cautious, conservative approach to managing concussions.

While they support research into the impact of concussions, they maintain that, "Hundreds of thousands of people have played football and other sports without experiencing any problem of this type and there continues to be considerable debate within the medical community on the precise long-term effects of concussions and how they relate to other risk factors."

The NFL is planning its own independent medical study of retired NFL players on the long-term effects of concussion.

"Really my main reason even for talking about this is to help the guys who are already retired," said Johnson. "[They] are getting divorced, going bankrupt, can't work, are depressed, and don't know what's wrong with them. [It is] to give them a name for it so they can go get help."

"The idea that you can whack your head hundreds of times in your life and knock yourself out and get up and be fine is gone," said Nowinski. "We know we can't do that anymore. This causes long-term damage."

Bacon Cheeseburger
01-27-2009, 11:38 AM
That's why I don't really have a problem for the most part with the money football players make. They always leave a piece of themselves out on the field.

B_Ambuehl
01-27-2009, 11:49 AM
Isn't it funny though how the guys who actually try to do things with their lives when they retire aren't the ones complaining about concussions. Aikman had more concussions than any of these guys, but he's working and you don't see him writing about anything related to concussions. IMO, for most of these folks their symptoms are more from depression and all the shit associated with that, primarily stemming from having nothing to do and no longer having a fat NFL contract. They're getting those symtoms confused with all the concussion mess. Ted Johnson has been trying to sue the Patriots for one thing or another ever since they cut him.

Demonpenz
01-27-2009, 11:57 AM
aikman wasn't meeting a fullback, running back in the hole, along with guards, tackles, wr anyone else. Linebackers hit a person on 80% of the plays and that is their job. Atleast aikman could try to cover up, duck, or do something to avoid the hit (sans Arrington)

OnTheWarpath58
01-27-2009, 12:12 PM
Isn't it funny though how the guys who actually try to do things with their lives when they retire aren't the ones complaining about concussions. Aikman had more concussions than any of these guys, but he's working and you don't see him writing about anything related to concussions. IMO, for most of these folks their symptoms are more from depression and all the shit associated with that, primarily stemming from having nothing to do and no longer having a fat NFL contract. They're getting those symtoms confused with all the concussion mess. Ted Johnson has been trying to sue the Patriots for one thing or another ever since they cut him.

As someone who is 36 years old, has had 7 diagnosed concussions, and likely several more undiagnosed, I respectfully say:

You don't have the faintest fucking clue what you're talking about.

Demonpenz
01-27-2009, 12:15 PM
bizzar54 :clap :clap:

Monty
01-27-2009, 12:35 PM
As someone who is 36 years old, has had 7 diagnosed concussions, and likely several more undiagnosed, I respectfully say:

You don't have the faintest fucking clue what you're talking about.

This.

It takes years to recover, if at all.

Demonpenz
01-27-2009, 12:42 PM
all those old boxers drooling on themselves ...

penguinz
01-27-2009, 12:43 PM
The best part of a concussion is when you are sitting in Chem class 2 weeks later and all of a sudden you can't remember how you got there.

OnTheWarpath58
01-27-2009, 12:53 PM
The best part of a concussion is when you are sitting in Chem class 2 weeks later and all of a sudden you can't remember how you got there.

Been there.

Well, not the Chem class...

penguinz
01-27-2009, 01:00 PM
Been there.

Well, not the Chem class...I had to drop that class as well as Calc that semester. :(

OnTheWarpath58
01-27-2009, 01:06 PM
I had to drop that class as well as Calc that semester. :(

I've been there too...

I went back to school with the best of intentions. At my age, I was looking to go full time, summers included, and finish my BS in under 4 years, and be starting my MA.

It's taken me a few semesters to figure out how much of a load I can handle, and how to handle the memory loss and other symptoms I've had to deal with.

I know how hard it's been for me, and I've had a fraction of the concussions these guys in the NFL have had. I can't imagine how their symptoms affect them, especially when you add the wear and tear on the rest of their body...

B_Ambuehl
01-27-2009, 01:12 PM
As someone who is 36 years old, has had 7 diagnosed concussions, and likely several more undiagnosed, I respectfully say:

You don't have the faintest ****ing clue what you're talking about.

Look at the effects of depression on the brain. A lot of things occur with regard to brain function and brain anatomy that are the exact same things said to occur with concussion syndrome, but that's something they always fail to mention in these types of articles. What the article also failed to mention is Ted Johnson tried to go back and play for the Patriots during the period of time he now claims he was suffering from all sorts of problems related to concussions.

Not that I'm saying that problems related to concussions don't exist, but there seems to be a very wide gap in how those who have something to gain are affected and those who don't.

North Dakota Chief
01-27-2009, 02:26 PM
That's why I don't really have a problem for the most part with the money football players make. They always leave a piece of themselves out on the field.

They don't make enough. Fairy baseball players make more.

HemiEd
01-27-2009, 02:32 PM
I wonder how many brown tangles are in Terry Bradshaw's brain?

They really do need to go with that improved helmet, even though it looks goofy.

WilliamTheIrish
01-27-2009, 03:52 PM
Isn't it funny though how the guys who actually try to do things with their lives when they retire aren't the ones complaining about concussions. Aikman had more concussions than any of these guys, but he's working and you don't see him writing about anything related to concussions. IMO, for most of these folks their symptoms are more from depression and all the shit associated with that, primarily stemming from having nothing to do and no longer having a fat NFL contract. They're getting those symtoms confused with all the concussion mess. Ted Johnson has been trying to sue the Patriots for one thing or another ever since they cut him.


B, you sound like you could work in the NFL front office. I won't disallow that some former players do suffer from depression, missing the lifestyle and fame.

But scientifially, there is no doubt that concussed brains are a huge action the NFL is wary of recognizing. Because if they lose, thousands of former players stand to gain.

Merril Hodge does TV and I'm sure he's brain damaged... I'm just not sure it occurred during football. :)

Rain Man
01-27-2009, 04:16 PM
I'm assuming that there's better science involved than is being reported. Examining the brains of five guys who had mental illness (or whatever) and then saying, "Yup, it's the concussions" isn't quite right. For all we know, they all drank a bad batch of Gatorade or they all were shaken as babies. It seems like they should examine other football players who died normally as a control group.

Pioli Zombie
01-27-2009, 04:30 PM
Isn't it funny though how the guys who actually try to do things with their lives when they retire aren't the ones complaining about concussions. Aikman had more concussions than any of these guys, but he's working and you don't see him writing about anything related to concussions. IMO, for most of these folks their symptoms are more from depression and all the shit associated with that, primarily stemming from having nothing to do and no longer having a fat NFL contract. They're getting those symtoms confused with all the concussion mess. Ted Johnson has been trying to sue the Patriots for one thing or another ever since they cut him.

yeah, they knew the risks. I say, let them suffer! :eek::eek: