December 17, 2013

Head injuries and suicide: It's not just for football anymore.

Now, playing baseball "with abandon" is connected (in the NYT) to suicide.
“There is no way to say [Ryan Freel's] neurodegenerative disease was the cause of his death or the tumultuous 10 years prior to his death,” said Dr. Bob Stern, a neurology and neurosurgery professor and a co-founder of Boston University’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy....

The B.U. Center’s examination of athletes has focused on football, and research published earlier this year indicated that of 35 deceased players whose brain matter was inspected, all but one showed signs of C.T.E. Several were suicide victims. One of the most prominent players, Dave Duerson, had attained the third stage of C.T.E.

Stern said he was initially skeptical that a baseball player would develop the disease. Then he learned during the investigation not only about Freel’s history of collisions with outfield walls and other players but that his first of several concussions unrelated to sports may have occurred at age 2....

“I don’t think baseball is going to become a high-risk activity for C.T.E.,” he said. “I don’t think parents should immediately say: ‘That does it. My kid should not play Little League.’ ... [But] we need to pay better attention to our brains. Try to take the head out of these activities."
Will parents overreact and take their kids out of sports? That would be stupid. I assume sports also alleviate depression and some of those sedentary kids, plunging their brains into computers and televisions, descend into suicide. The message is only: Don't get your head knocked hard.

34 comments:

rhhardin said...

It's what'shisname's law.

Safety equipment increases danger as people take it into account.

The Peltzman effect.

I knew I could think of it.

He studied the effect of seat belt laws. Zero.

CatherineM said...

You know what's dangerous? Farming.

I get so tired of all of the anti-sports "you might get hurt" stories. Kids are in more danger getting in the car every day.

Sports, besides physical activity and hand/eye/gross motor skills development, can be important socially. Also, sometimes the coaches are better role models and leaders than some poor kids parents.

AJ Lynch said...

Smaller families leads to even more smothering of kids by the parents.

I think these smaller families will hurt participation in contact sports more than these medical reports.

Scott M said...

They're just not going to be happy until they ruin fun for everyone. And, since that will finally make them happy, someone will come along and ruin that for them in the end.

It's a morbius timeline of busy-body-ness.

Tibore said...

There's reasonable concern, and there's freakout and panic. Reasonable concern says that parents should take proper precautions, insist that kids wear their safety equipment and that coaches concentrate on proper, safe technique, even going so far as to insist on a well-trained coach who can teach all that being hired in the first place (of course I'm thinking mostly of football here, but the same has to apply to pretty much any sport) while at the same time all agreeing to reasonable requirements and limits for the league their children play in.

That's reasonable concern.

Panic is insisting that Little Snowflake will absolutely never play in the Patty Cake league, ever because you don't want to run that .01% risk of inducing carpal-tunnel repetitive strain injuries by high school.

betamax3000 said...

The Ghost of Peter O'Toole says:

I Received My Head Injuries the Proper Way of the Inebriated Gentleman: I Fell Over Drunk. Here in Heaven My Head Lands Safely on a Cloud.

betamax3000 said...

The Ghost of Peter O'Toole says:

In the True Football -- what you Americans Call Soccer for God Knows Why -- Our Players Bounce the Ball Repeatedly By Striking Them With Their Very Heads, with Nary a Helmet to Be Seen. Stiff Upper Lip.

Crazy Jane said...

It's not just baseball and football, not just head injuries. I know young people aged 20 or less who have bad shoulders, painful elbows and banged-up knees that have led them to abandon their favorite sports. Athletic competition is great, no question, but when children specialize at very young ages, sometimes they pay a cost in foreshortened careers.

MadisonMan said...

It's not the sport that is the danger. It is the poor coaching of players that allows them to learn how to play in an unsafe manner. Where was the kid's coach when the kid was running into walls to catch fly balls, or running into others? Learn where your body is with respect to the field -- that is not a hard skill!

A parent can be alert to the dangers involved, especially with concussion, and treat a concussion as a severe injury that you don't just bounce back from. And you prevent your kid from playing until he or she is well and truly healed -- because it's concussion on top of unhealed concussion that is the problem.

betamax3000 said...

The Ghost of Peter O'Toole says:

Oliver Reed: Now There is a Man Who Could take a Shot to the Head. He had a Party Trick Whereupon he Would Beat Himself Upon the Head with a Brick, and Keep Doing So Until He Finished a Fifth of Vodka. Hosts Would Try Not To Leave Any Spare Bricks About, But Oliver Could Always Find One in the Gardens: Resourceful Man.

SGT Ted said...

Are the suicide numbers outside the normal range of the population of all athletes in the US, seeing as how the vast majority never reach the pro level? Or are they using only the pro player population level to propagandize that the problem is worse than it really is?

Michael said...

I was looking through an old album, pictures from my neighborhood taken forty or fifty years ago. The children were on bicycles without helmets. They were playing football in the park without helmets. They were excavating Civil War arms without hovering parents. There was a high diving board at the pool.
The swings were giant and made of metal. The monkey bars were metal.

All gone.

chrisnavin.com said...

War-Bad, violent men, PTSD, only necessary to advance humanist ideals. Righteous and necessary if the right people are in charge. We can progress beyond war with the right ideals, right-thinking and right 'treatment'

Sports-Pretty bad, violent, ruined bodies and minds and maybe PTSD (sports for women, minorities and the 'oppressed' are empowering however).

Sports can become a vehicle for tolerance and equality.

Fraternities-Pretty bad, hazing violent and unfair, too much drinking and potential rape.

Nerds & Geeks-Tolerable only if they aren't misogynist and follow the rules approved by the right-thinking leaders and institutions

A few wise men are needed.

Ever more freedom and ever more equality are next.

Birches said...

A few doctors and clinics are getting rich over nothing. I would imagine that if you popped open most of our heads after we died, you would find some sort of brain damage. Thus far, most of these studies showing CTE have been fairly selective in who's brains they're getting. I'm going to wait things out before I get all Chicken Little about sports. They're always inventing new reasons why we are not accountable for our actions.

I agree with most that there is way too much specialization with young kids these days. Sports is for fun, not for a million dollar contract. We live in a very athletic-centric place. My spouse and I did some math and figured that all the money parents spend on camps and year round leagues could have been saved for college. So the kids that were fortunate enough to get a scholarship ended up just prepaying for college.

Strelnikov said...

Once the nannies make "Safety First" the official goal of all sports, that will be the end of them.

I look forward to the NFFL (National Flag Football League), MLTB (Major League T-Ball), and the NNBA (National Nerf Basketball Association). If men do it, it must be outlawed.

mrs. e said...

MM, though poor coaching and parenting skills are to be taken into account, I think the sport of choice is the greater danger. At the high school level, football does report the most concussions with baseball/softball the lowest (with lacrosse and soccer, 2nd, in the report I found). Though the pros do it enough, I don't think that many kids are running into chain-link fence outfield or baseline walls. As for running into each other - that happens at all levels. I'm also assuming, as far as coaching skills go, those seen on SportsCenter are of a higher degree than the volunteer at the local park.

AJ Lynch said...

Michael:

I still laugh at this George Carlin line:

"Jesus, nowadays kids wear helmets for just about everything but jerking off".

Tibore said...

"Birches said...
A few doctors and clinics are getting rich over nothing. I would imagine that if you popped open most of our heads after we died, you would find some sort of brain damage. Thus far, most of these studies showing CTE have been fairly selective in who's brains they're getting."


I'm sorry, I'm not trying to start an argument, but I need to challenge that point: There have indeed been studies examining the brains of repetitive concussive cases vs. those with no histories whatsoever, and in post-mortem examinations there are definite differences. As one example, one of the major indicators of CTE right behind outright brain component atrophy is "tauopathy" i.e. tau protein buildup. In post mortems of patients with head injury histories, the concentrations of those are observed, and are distributed differently than in other chronic diseases, such as Alzheimer's.

I fully admit that a great deal of studies have indeed centered around only brains of concussed patients, but that doesn't mean studies contrasting them vs. patients with no injury history have been done. It's just that once the baseline's established there's no need to repeat the comparisons over and over.

Legit criticisms of the current research exist. For example, it's thrown around that participating in sports is automatically a higher risk category for CTE, but no research to date has determined that all athletes have increased risk of developing CTE; there's a strain of thought that allows for the possibility of sports merely exacerbating the likelihood among genetically predisposed individuals. That hypothesis will take years to test, but the point is that the overall assertion of risk is not firmly established.

It's fair to say that the research is so far incomplete, and it's even more fair to say that some assertions of risk have been made that are not fully supportable. What's not fair is to say that the differences between examined brains and "normal" ones aren't that large, and it definitely is unfair to allege that members of the medical profession are creating a disorder out of nothing. It is definitely observed. It's just not well understood yet.

Deirdre Mundy said...

Baseball has fewer concussions than swimming or cross country? Wow! It really isn't a real sport!

More seriously, I think the specialization is to blame for a lot of joint and muscle injuries. In the past, sports were seasonal. Kids would do baseball in the spring, soccer in the fall, basketball in the winter and swim in the summer.

Now it's one sport, all the time, and a lot of young players don't do enough cross training.

The weird thing is, early specialization doesn't make sense for 99% of kids. Better to learn to be generally fit, healthy, and a good sport then to focus on one sport in particular.

I mean, sure, my kid wants to build Mars rovers when she grows up, but that doesn't mean we drop all of her classes except for math, science, and computers!

Brennan said...

The hardest hit I ever received playing football was in flag football. It was a blindside block that I never saw.

If it wasn't football, I was finding other ways to come into contact with hard surfaces such as tree limbs, moutains covered in snow, and rock formations. Boys will be boys. Try and stop us.

Christy said...

Nephew had a bad concussion last year playing football. This year the neurologist battled the football coaches for his soul. The band director won.

Michael K said...

A couple of observations.

" Thus far, most of these studies showing CTE have been fairly selective in who's brains they're getting."

Yes, they have been pro athletes who may well have been using steroids.

Second- Pro football players have been getting bigger. A lot bigger and the energy of some of these collisions is orders of magnitude greater than they were 30 years ago.

Someone recently suggested that the solution to the concussion problem might be to ban football helmets. That sounds like a joke but the deceleration injuries are not affected by the helmet. Just the pain is reduced. If it hurt more, maybe the force would be less.

Smilin' Jack said...

I assume sports also alleviate depression and some of those sedentary kids, plunging their brains into computers and televisions, descend into suicide.

Organized sports, especially football, are essential to inculcate in our kids the fundamental American values of blind obedience to authority and a willingness to sacrifice all for an absolutely pointless purpose. The Vietnam War was won on the playing fields of Texas.

William said...

Bobby Fisher was by no means the only nor even the craziest chess player who ever lived. Just about any activity that you love enough to become obsessive about contains within it the seeds of your own destruction. Wise parents point their chess prodigy children in the direction of checkers. Just so with baseball. Any kid who becomes so competitive about baseball that he runs into fences loves baseball not wisely but too well. Here again, the wise parent should bring badminton or ultimate frisbee to their child's attention.......To briefly recap, there are no bad sports, only bad parents.

rcocean said...

You sports fan understand what this is REALLY all about do you?

This is laying the groundwork for a big class action lawsuit against the NCAA and Colleges. Cha-ching, $$$ millions for lawyers. It will then work its way down through HS and pee-wee football Cha-ching millions $$$ for lawyers.

It was then lead to many Pee-wee football and HS football teams either going out of business or paying sky-high insurance costs for protection against lawsuits.

rcocean said...

The NFL is the first because its the easiest to prove damage due to injuries and because the NFL is a prosperous commercial enterprise that is willing pay out X millions as a cost of doing business.

But the NFL will be chump change compared to what the lawyers will get from the NCAA and HS schools.

Howard said...

Earnest Hemingway was a famous head trauma dude, alcoholic and shotgun eater.

MadisonMan said...

But the NFL will be chump change compared to what the lawyers will get from the NCAA and HS schools.

My kid's High School does concussion testing before sport season, some baseline test. And after every potential head knock, they're re-tested.

I don't see how, given multiple concussions, one could credibly assign blame to one institution. (Not that lawyers won't try, of course).

david7134 said...

The problem with baseball is that for some ungodly reason the junior leagues insist on playing with the second hardest ball. There is a softer ball that they can play with, but they start the kids out with one that is dangerous, for no real reason.

Birches said...

Yes, they have been pro athletes who may well have been using steroids.

Exactly. Before we enter panic mode, let's check out Dave Duerson and Junior Seau's steroid list before we automatically assume brain injury. And I'll put most pro boxers in that category too.

Are the suicide numbers outside the normal range of the population of all athletes in the US, seeing as how the vast majority never reach the pro level? Or are they using only the pro player population level to propagandize that the problem is worse than it really is?

From a Grantland article: NIOSH's study reported that nine of the players who fit their time frame had passed away due to "self-harm," which was well below the 21.8 incidences that would have been expected from the rate produced by the general population.

So not even the pros are committing suicide in greater numbers than the general population.

Birches said...

Here's the link to an article where some neurologists argue there isn't even CTE. Chicago Tribune

I will add it's probably not the medical community that's getting richest off of this, it's the lawyers.

Blue@9 said...

Football is in serious danger, and it has nothing to do with lawsuits. The talent pool will diminish significantly with parents keeping their kids out of youth football. It's already happening in Pop Warner with diminished participation. If they can't fix the concussion issue in the college and pro game, the slide will continue and we're going to see a really inferior game in the next 10-15 years.

MadisonMan said...

and we're going to see a really inferior game in the next 10-15 years.

The Cowboys and Bears are obviously way ahead of their time!

Emil Blatz said...

F'ng lawyers!