This “Guest Series” is being authored by Terry Ott and will delve into the Canadian Football League and the issues revolving around it and brain injury. His process began nearly a year ago, but Mr. Ott picked up some steam with the release of“League of Denial”. He has since found himself running into dead-ends and basically being ostracized for taking a journalistic angle on this as it pertains to the CFL. We are thankful that we can provide a space for his writings and only hope that someone who is reading this can further his cause. You can read PART 1 HERE.
THE LINEBACKER’S HEAD GAMES
Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948, states that:
“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
Former star CFL player Leo Ezerins was a ferocious linebacker through the 80s and won a Grey Cup while playing for the Hamilton Tiger Cats in 1986.
In that game, in which Hamilton was in some sports books a 22 point dog to the vaunted Edmonton Eskimos, Ezerins and company absolutely stomped and annihilated the Eskimos, a seek and destroy mission that in the first half forced half a dozen sacks, several forced fumbles and recoveries and a total offense by Edmonton of basically, nadda.
Here, are some highlights:
Ezerins was perhaps the 80s CFL’s answer to former Pittsburgh Steeler wild-man and Hall of Famer Jack Lambert, taking no prisoners and showing no quarter on the gridiron.
And right now, Leo is not too happy with me. I kinda feel bad about that, and here’s how it happened.
You see, Ezerins is currently the executive director of the CFL Alumni Association which boasts around 1000 participants.
The Alumni Association attempts to bring former players together in friendship, events and sometimes even modest philanthropy. Some members have been directly involved in examinations of former player
health and safety issues as well, including concussion research. Obviously, the CFL Alumni does some good work.
And so last October, I sought Ezerins out via e-mail, inquiring as to the Alumni’s position on concussions and their aftermath on the association’s former player members.
He suggested we meet and when I arrive at a crowded Starbucks in Hamilton, Leo, in denim, fashionably coiffed longish locks and looking trim and fit with piercing blue eyes was just finishing off a light snack, seated with his back to the wall.
Pleasantries were exchanged, and I told him that it was an honor to meet a player that I thought had served his team and fans very well indeed. He took off his large 1986 Grey Cup ring at my request and handed it to me and I told him that after the ’86 game, I had a poster of one of his defenses many sacks that day framed and hung on my office wall.
Then, some cat and mouse with the former Cat began.
“Where are you going with this,” asked Ezerins.
I told him I had followed and supported the CFL since 1963 but I was now concerned with the mounting toll on former and current player health, mostly due to concussions, and had begun a wide-ranging investigation earlier in the year and hoped to publish a story on it.
“We’re not an advocacy group,” Ezerins quickly interjected.
And during the next hour, I found out, at least from Ezerin’s perspective, why.
The PBS League of Denial doc had just run, and, it appeared, Leo was not exactly a fan.
It was pretty obvious, as well, that Ezerins was not exactly on side either with Chris Nowinski, founder of the Sports Legacy Institute, the Boston University CTE researchers and other assorted noisy-nosy-Nellie advocates dealing seriously with football concussions.
“A lot of these guys are on a feed-bag,” said Leo.
Ezerins, still quite an imposing figure well into his 50s with a slight thousand yard stare yet was so soft-spoken that I asked him to repeat what he said, as at first I thought I had not heard him correctly. A “feed-bag,” I asked. What’s that?
Leo then explained that in his opinion, some were trying and in fact succeeding to dine-out on the suddenly hot football concussion debate, making careers and remuneration off a controversial issue that he believed was far from set in stone.
Yet when I posed the rhetorical question, to wit, if an ad was placed in an Atlanta newspaper seeking American former CFL players with concussion issues-many former US CFL players came from that area-how many responses did he think it would generate, Leo’s answer after a short pause was, “lots.”
Trying to reconcile the “feedbag” remark with “lots” of ex-players with concussion problems in Atlanta was a difficult one for me.
So then I asked Ezerins whether he had suffered concussions, and if so, whether he had any residual effect from them now and he said that yes, he believed he had been concussed in his career, but that no, he currently had no problems.
He then quietly said something that again stopped me in my tracks when I asked if he was not worried that he may yet develop issues related to football head trauma from a near decade long pro career.
“I’m more concerned about psychosomatic symptoms (of brain injury)” said Ezerins.
I thought that a rather odd remark in that the available medical evidence suggest that one either has brain trauma induced memory loss, depression, anger issues and other disabilities, or you don’t, as these are symptoms and conditions that can be measured and established in scientific protocols.
As it appeared to me that Leo just did not want to go there, and in an attempt to channel Dr. Hunter S. Thompson’s seminal observation that “when the going gets weird, the weird turn pro,” I asked for some additional clarification of his views on concussions in pro football.
Because Ezerins’ name is on an important study done earlier this year by Dr. Charles Tator and colleagues of the University of Toronto that despite finding 3 of the 6 subjects in the study with confirmed CTE, was seemingly mathematically and counter intuitively entitled, “Absence Of” CTE in former CFL players, and furthermore the study advised “caution in the clinical diagnosis of CTE.”
And then Leo told me he had been involved in what politely may be described as a difference of opinion with a high-profile BU doctor well-known for CTE research.
According to Leo, it escalated to the point that Nowinski then invited Ezerins to refrain from trying to unduly antagonize his researchers, although Ezerins did not elaborate exactly what the difference of opinion had been.
However, I was unable to confirm that such an incident took place. But once again thought this type of scenario was another odd one, to say the least.
Was there a form of feud going on between Leo and Nowinski and the BU CTE group? I don’t know, yet it should be obvious that passions run high on both sides and it appears something occurred. Man,just what’s goin’ on, I really don’t know.
And while it is certainly common to have spirited debate within the scientific community on many issues, one might also have assumed that all of these particular non-league football people would have been on basically the same page, or play-book, working in the interest of the player’s best interests and singin’ and even shoutin’ from the same bully pulpit.
But it is Ezerin’s view as I understand it that the BU researchers went looking for the worst cases of CTE, found them, and then basically said, “see?” and thus gave football a black eye. (Never mind that in 2009, the NFL, in part because of the work of the world-class BU research on CTE actually admitted for the first time, and in some cases, a causal relationship between football concussions and CTE.)
In any event, my interview was over, and Leo and I shook hands and parted.
We corresponded via e-mail for several more weeks, but when Ezerins declined to give me an official statement from the Alumni regarding my concussion questions, we mutually agreed that we were just wasting each other’s time and stopped communication.
I’m not sure if he took me for some boat rockin’, jock sniffin’ punk reporter or what, but I did tell him this was not my first investigative rodeo and I would get my answers where I could find them, to which he advised via e-mail,”giddy up.”
So I did, and about a month later when I gave him in all fairness one more shot at an Alumni statement on concussions, and asked if he still thought the whole thing was still just a “feed-bag,” Ezerins produced a link to my Concussion Blog post and called me “disingenuous.”
Now, I sort of get the idea Leo thinks I’m not such a nice a guy so, in the spirit of the season and goodwill, I’m going to give him the last word, from his final e-mail to me, when I inquired of him how he could ask me to assist him in finding former players with concussion problems when he would not answer any questions regarding the very same serious issue for my story.
Leo, who signs all his e-mails with “No whining allowed” along with a smiley emoticon with shades, said:
“This is what I mean. Unless it is quid pro quo you won’t help a former player out?
How genuine are you? You aren’t “helping me out” you are helping out someone who did give you information and possibly helping them out.
Sorry I don’t work your way. Your only concern is for you and your article. Please do not respond.”