Terry Ott: 3rd Down, CTE to go – Part 6 – UPDATED

CBC 5th EstateThis continuing “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 and PART 2 HERE and PART 3 HERE and PART 4 HERE and PART 5 HERE.


UPDATE 21:19 1/22/14 – rectified link to CBC The Fifth Estate “Head Games” (see below)



“Now I remember why I gave up speaking to journalists. They are a species of foul vermin. I wouldn’t hire people like that to guard my sewer. Journalists are morons. They’re idiots. They’re ignorant and stupid.” – The late, great, irascible Lou Reed.

Well, up here in the Great White North, the question of (seriously) addressing the serious problem of concussions in the Canadian Football League would appear to be a deaf, dumb and blind one, boy.

Or, maybe as popular as baked beans on a bus trip.

For whichever way you want to turn this thing loose, up here, it’s locked up, tight.

As I’ve written before in this series, although there has been some pretty good reporting, especially by the CBC where on their website they still carry many reports and videos about concussions, about the only report on concussions and the CFL’s role that I can find is a 2008 CBC Fifth Estate report entitled, “Head Games.”

Below is the web promo, description and link but that link does not work. (The Concussion Blog originally linked to this report several years ago when the link did work.)

CBC The Fifth Estate – “Head Games” broadcast in 2008:

“They have been called the greatest football team in the history of the CFL — the Edmonton Eskimos of the 1970s and ’80s that won five consecutive Grey Cups. But, for some of the star players on that team, the years of triumph ended ingloriously in early deaths, from heart attack, suicide and misadventure. The tragedy of those early deaths was often compounded by alcohol or drug addictions, probably caused by another, less visible, killer. Recent research by neuroscientists now shows the link between on-the-field concussions and brain damage; a permanent injury that can lead to depression, suicide and severe aberrant behaviour. The damage is so profound, the researchers say, that post-mortem examinations of the brain tissue of five former professional football players can be compared only to the tissue found in the brain tissue of advanced Alzheimer’s cases.” CBC The Fifth Estate – Head Games

This 2008 report was actually ahead of its time, and again, the only one that I know of that cornered the CFL and asked some tough, prescient questions. The former commissioner had that old deer/headlamps face a few times and newspapers at the time took a toot but then everyone went back to a snore. Comfortably numb.

But now, there is a proviso on the Fifth Estate website advising thatprior programs from 2003 were inadvertently re-posted in 2013 and therefore, contact customer service, yada, yada, yada, and blah-blah.

Yet interestingly – I said interestingly – the only Fifth Estate link that I could not get to work was…TA DAH: Head Games.

I am alleging nothing-although I may later sort of spatially speculate-but there are some conspiracy theorists out there who are very suspicious.

One of them is Phil Colwell, the former CFL running back who was featured in the first installment of this series and who suffered a devastating knock-out  blow in a game in Winnipeg in 1981 and claims to be suffering post-concussive neurological damage as a result.

Phil thinks the Head Games program was yanked off the Fifth Estate site-it is, however available as a pirate bit torrent download elsewhere-because the CFL got a crumby tummy ache over its contents.

I’m not saying that I agree with Colwell, but here’s a thought: Sports Legacy Institute founder Chris Nowinski wrote a ground-breaking book on concussions in football in 2006 entitled, TA-DAH, “Head Games.”

Beside some stomach upset, discuss also possible copyright and intellectual property issues amongst yourselves.

(For the record, I tried multiple times to contact anyone at the Fifth Estate about my series and other things and not once did I even get a form e-mail brush-off. And this is even more odd in that lead Fifth Estate correspondent Bob McKeown is a former CFL player who played multiple seasons in the 70s. Eventually, with the aid of another CBC producer, I was informed that McKeown found the topic, “fascinating,” but got nothing further.)

And possibly, neither version of Head Games went over well with many former CFL players.


UPDATE 21:19 – 1/22/14: Here is the updated link for “Head Games” provided to Mr. Ott after this post was publishedhttp://www.cbc.ca/player/News/TV+Shows/the+fifth+estate/ID/1338429563/.  Mr. Ott made a good faith effort and had other cohorts (including me) attempt at getting the link to work with previous searches.  There has been no explanation as to why this was not working on his or others ends until now.  Although, it was insisted upon that it had always worked via a Google search.


Some may have considered the former Edmonton players who spoke out “rats,” talking out of turn about things better left omerta inside the locker, or long-term care, room.

In fact, one former CFL player I spoke with now involved in concussion debate and investigation cynically mocked the fact that the film version of Nowinski’s Head Games played to a tiny audience in a theater in Toronto in 2012. A sort of ha, ha, ha, nobody gives a toss about that supposed trendy media-whoring feedbag of collective concussed brains.

(Only one former CFL player besides Colwell was willing to volunteer to me that he had signed up for the sturm and drang and bang and crash, but did not enlist “to end up with brain damage.”)

Yet I wonder what side of history the deniers and name-callers see themselves on. Surely not the right side, and not on real history’s side as well what with scores of multiple nailed noggins proven to be creating havoc for former players who got ’em.

Pro hockey may be able to dodge the concussion calliope-although a class-action law suit has been filed already against the NHL-by banning fighting, where many concussions occur and by further tweaking other rules and the eventual TV gelding of Don Cherry’s rock ’em, sock ’em beat their heads in for fun 20th century philosophy.

But similar to boxing, the name of the game in football is to hit and hit back. Hard.

(In the recent play-off game between Seattle and New Orleans, cameras caught a Saints defensive back, who had earlier delivered a devastating shoulder to head hit on a defenseless Seattle receiver which resulted in a penalty and concussive game ending injury, being fist-bumped and congratulated on the sideline by teammates and coaches.The Seattle receiver, who suffered a concussion, was unable to play in the NFC championship game due to his injury.)

And unless and until that part of the game that leads to multiple concussions is addressed with (much) better brain protection,my prediction is congress will step in and football as we know it will be in deep doo-doo.

Even president Barack Obama has said that if he had a son, he would not let him play football, saying that the dangers  were “no longer a secret.”

In Canada, unlike the US and A, whistlers blowin’ a touchy tune usually don’t make the charts and unless it’s got something to do with protecting the CFL, even from themselves, the Canuck high governors would rather stand on guard saving the whales, and polar bears as thee token benevolence of bestiary.

My elderly mother, a 60 year CFL fan told me that if I couldn’t say anything good about the game, well then just keep my cynical Baby Boomer yap shut and head trauma heresy to myself.

Yet with apologies to Billy Joel, I didn’t start the damn fire, it was always burnin’, since the world’s been turnin’, for those glorious football heroes…


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