We are surrounded by hypocrisy, denial, and complete ignorance. The political and economic sphere of the National Football League has swollen into a cyclic route of blindness, though we allow some of the ‘light’ to enter our tunnel each time a tragedy may occur. Like a concussion, the culture of football is presented in a state of instability, with neurons no longer responding to transmitted signals, complimented by the biological processes of the brain striving to reach, yet again, a level of homeostasis within the area of damage. Players, coaches, and fans have plentifully ignored the significance of mild traumatic brain injury, and even as some, including medical professionals, strive for further awareness to make certain leaps in the right direction, football still remains as a tarnished entity that will be forever haunted by the concussion crisis. Football, in a sense, is an area of the brain that is no longer stimulated, though ‘neurons’ still send signals to such ‘target cells,’ despite the fact that such a practice of plasticity seems to receive no positive feedback.
So what do we do? We need to realize that this ‘concussion’ of a culture could have been avoided, and that there needs to be a widespread consensus on wanting to reach a period in which we can all say, “we did all that we could.” We’re not there yet, though, and I am sure it will take quite some time to revive football’s reputation in relation to this chronic pain that neuroscience has declared to be a crisis.
In 2002, the National Football League was introduced its offensive weapon that deflated its multi-billion dollar balloon. This weapon, in a sense, is the brain of former Hall of Famer Mike Webster, who played sixteen seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Webster’s brain was acquired by Dr. Bennet Omalu, who would later find the presence of a neurodegenerative disease in “Iron Mike.” This disease would be named chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), and served as a bridge that linked Webster’s erratic behavior towards the end of his life to the years of concussive and subconcussive blows to the head.
Webster struggled significantly after his playing career ended. He had invested his money in a handful of miserably unsuccessful attempts at running businesses, and often found himself homeless, living out of his car. What was it that could have led such a successful man on the football field, filled with pride and confidence for years, to follow such a dramatic downward spiral? Continue reading