SCOTT ROSS, 45, linebacker with New Orleans, 1991, and USC, 1987-90, died on 9/21/14 of extreme hypertension and alcohol poisoning, and was believed to have been dead 7-10 days in a car in a Louisiana church parking lot. Scott Ross was funny and magnetic, life of the party. His was the loudest voice on three Rose Bowl teams at USC, where he was Pac-10 defensive Player of the Year. When he met Laura Fitzgerald, his last girlfriend, he asked her to watch a movie with him. It was “North Dallas Forty,” adapted from Pete Gent’s book about carousing football players and their extreme ambivalence about their game. That, Ross told her, was his story. He was misdiagnosed. He was accepted at mental health facilities and turned away. He lost two marriages. He was drowned in a cascade of pain medication and alcohol. At the end, he was depressed and violent and slept almost around the clock, his parents, Marshall and Janie Ross, said. Todd Marinovich, the USC and NFL quarterback who has journeyed to, and returned from, his own inferno, said, “We’re just serving our youth up for brain damage.” During the course of his marriages Scott’s days of rage became more frequent. He had a degenerative hip problem and was taking highly addictive painkillers, and he was also diagnosed as bipolar, which required more medication. He had jobs, including a good one with 3M, and lost them. Dr. Frank Adams, a retired neurotherapist who was also a psychiatrist, said of Ross’ condition, “This was an extreme case. Dementia is a progressive disease that will eventually kill you.” At times Marshall would see Scott sitting on a curb, crying. At one point he had to break into Scott’s apartment and get him off the floor. “It’s like a dark cloud that’s coming,” Scott would say. “There’s pure evil going on in my head. I have to take a drink or a pill to stop it.” In an effort to help him, his parents took him back into their home. “He would be awake all night long,” Janie said. “He lived for that cellphone, would spend hours talking to his friends. Things would change quickly. One day USC was playing football on TV and he watched, seemed so happy. He was wound up, pacing the floor, yelling. First time we’d seen him happy in a long time. But then he would go berserk. We were afraid physically. I told people that Scott would never hit us…once he got me in a headlock. It scared the daylights out of me. There were nights I had to spend with my girlfriend. We had to ask him to leave.” There was the night Ross found himself on the roof of an apartment building, trying to get in. There was another night he was wearing only a raincoat, driving a tractor in the rain in San Luis Obispo. “He thought it was funny,” Janie said. “But he didn’t remember any of that. He didn’t remember getting physical with me.” Janie does not watch football anymore. Marshall does, with ambivalence.–“Football killed ex-USC LB Scott Ross; His family wants NFL to do more about concussions”, DailyNews.com 8/15/15, LA Daily News, Mark Whicker.
JEB PUTZIER, 36, tight end with Denver, Houston and Seattle, 2002-08, suffered brain damage from many concussions and the residual effects from numerous cortisone injections, became depressed and tried to commit suicide. After football his personality changed significantly for the worse, he became fatigued so easily that he couldn’t hold his job with a medical equipment company, and was divorced. Chronic fatigue may have been partially caused by the numerous cortisone and Toradol injections Putzier took throughout his career. Dr. Greg Hipskind, the chief medical advisor of CereScan, said, “If those cortisol levels in your bloodstream are high, it turns off your brain signals to make more,” Hipskind said. “When that signal remains off for a long time it’s hard for it to restart.” Putzier now undergoes daily infrared laser treatments to the skull. He also goes through eyeball movement therapy which helps put the brain cells back in sync. His condition has markedly improved.–“NFL Aftermath: Life a medical struggle for Jeb Putzier”, 9news.com 7/6/15, Mike Klis.
AUSTIN TRENUM, 17, fullback and linebacker with Brentsville HS (VA), committed suicide by hanging on 9/27/10. His parents, Gil and Michelle, who grew up in the football-steeped cultures of Ohio and Texas, said Austin had about 4 concussions. After being taken to the hospital for a concussion sustained in a game, Michelle asked him if he wanted a Tylenol because he’d had a headache the previous time he’d sustained a concussion. “Mom, I’m fine. I don’t have a headache. Except for my normal football headache. I get them after every game.” Some experts believe 8 of 10 concussions go undiagnosed. A concussion is not a bruise, but a disruption of the intricate system of electrochemical signals that constitute normal brain function, and can drain the brain of energy. Symptoms include headaches, sensitivity to light, confusion, lack of focus, irritability, and loss of interest in favorite activities. With rest and a gradual return to regular activity, most athletes who suffer a single concussion experience no permanent ill effects. Some, however, suffer post-concussion syndrome, in which symptoms persist for months or years, in rare cases permanently. Having one concussion may increase the risk of another. Multiple concussions are associated with an increased risk of post-concussion syndrome as well as depression and memory loss. Dr. Gerard Gioia says the conventional medical wisdom of waking concussion patients every few hours to check for brain bleeding is actually not a good idea, because sleep is essential to allow cells to rebalance themselves. He says the frontal lobes, which house our executive control centers and constitute about one-third of total brain mass, and are located just behind the forehead, absorb much of the contact in football. In teenagers, the frontal lobes are still developing and require a great amount of energy to function properly. Any disruption can affect the ability to reason, to choose right from wrong, to override impulses, to connect current actions to future consequences. An excellent student and extremely stable individual, Austin Trenum did not show any signs of depression and did not leave a suicide note. A post-mortem examination showed no signs of CTE. He had multifocal axonal injury, a condition where axons, which connect neurons and conduct electricity in the brain, are badly damaged. He had 2 younger brothers who have since stopped playing football: Cody finished his high school season and quit football; Walker suffered a concussion and was persuaded by his mother to stop playing.–“Did Football Kill Austin Trenum?”, Washingtonian.com 7/23/12, Patrick Hruby.
RYAN HOFFMAN, 40, offensive lineman with North Carolina (UNC), graduated in 1998 and is now homeless and panhandling in Florida. His family believes he has brain damage from football that prevents him from functioning normally. 287 pounds in his playing days, he is now more than 100 pounds lighter, and has talked about abusing drugs and alcohol. His sister, Kira Soto, has tried for a long time to help him by providing a place to stay, coordinating medical appointments, and finding him jobs, which he has lost. Despite offers of help from former players, coaches, the Gridiron Greats Assistance Fund (which normally assists only retired NFLers), and free medical assistance from UNC, Hoffman refuses to accept and remains hard to contact. Soto says he’s terrified of what doctors might find.—“Homeless Former U.N.C. Player Balks at Efforts to Help Him”, NY Times 3/11/15, Juliet Macur.
Boston University neuropathologist Ann McKee says that brain damage can lead to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a disease that strikes 1 in 100,000 people in the general population, slowly destroys muscles, and usually leads to death by respiratory failure. McKee says toxic proteins that form after brain trauma and lead to depression and dementia may also cause ALS. HBO Real Sports said it is aware of 14 NFL retirees afflicted with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. At least 8 Canadian Football League players have been diagnosed with the disease.—“Boston University study by Ann McKee finds link between concussions and Lou Gehrig’s Disease”, NYdailynews.com 8/17/10, Michael O’Keefe.
Twenty-four high school football players between 16 and 18 years old who had never had a concussion wore helmet-mounted accelerometers, which tracked how often and how hard they were hit, during every practice and game. Based on this data, the players were divided into 2 groups, 9 heavy hitters and 15 light hitters. Using an advanced brain imaging technique known as diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), researchers looked for changes in the white matter of the players’ brains. White matter is made up of millions of nerve fibers that act like communication cables connecting various parts of the brain. DTI measures the movement of water along these nerve fibers, known as fractional anisotropy (FA). In a healthy brain, the movement of water is even and has high FA. More random water movement and a drop in FA suggest brain abnormalities. Although none of the players sustained a concussion, by the end of the season the players in the heavy-hitter group had more significant decreases in FA in certain parts of the brain than those in the light-hitter group. It is not now known if these effects heal over time, such as a bruise on the arm, or if there are permanent long-term effects. Dr. Christopher Whitlow of Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center is the study’s author.—“High School Football Tied to Brain Changes, Even Without Concussion”, HealthDay.com 12/1/14, Mary Elizabeth Dallas.
JOE NAMATH, 72, quarterback with the NY Jets and LA Rams, 1965-77, says that playing football damaged his brain. “None of the body was designed to play football.” Famous for guaranteeing and completing the biggest upset in Super Bowl history in 1969, the Hall of Famer has had both knees replaced. He admitted he had a drinking problem and went into rehab after appearing drunk on a national TV interview with ESPN’s Suzy Kolber, saying he wanted to kiss her.—“Joe Namath says he has brain damage from football”, Yahoo! Sports 1/31/14, Jay Busbee referencing an interview with Rita Beaver on CBS Sunday Morning.
Namath Update: Namath, who has recently undergone treatment for brain injuries, was asked in an interview with Tiffany Kenney of ABC’s West Palm Beach, FL, affiliate WPBF-TV whether would still play the game, given all he has learned about the effects of concussions. “No,” he said. “I hate to say that because if I had a child who wanted to play I’d let them play … but I’d wait ’til he developed a little more. This instrument that we have, that we have been blessed with … it’s not designed for the kind of contact or physical abuse your body gets playing this sport.” Including high school, college and pros, he played 13 years. In September 2014, the Jupiter Medical Center in Jupiter, FL, opened the Joe Namath Neurological Research Center to help combat the debilitating effects of traumatic brain injuries. The center launched a clinical trial to study the effectiveness of hyperbaric oxygen therapy for treating the traumatic brain injuries that can result from sports-related concussions, motor vehicle accidents, strokes, military combat or other accidents. Namath not only helped raise $10 million to fund the project, he took part in the therapy, spending 120 sessions in the hyperbaric chamber. He knew that several other former players, including Dave Herman, who played with Namath on the Jets, had been diagnosed with degenerative brain disease that was linked to suffering repeated concussions. Namath had brain scans done that showed parts of his brain were not receiving enough blood. Since the treatments, he has felt better, he said, and his brain scans showed improvements. “The scans are beautiful and I really feel like I’ve gotten sharper. I feel better than ever.”–“Joe Namath Says He Wouldn’t Play Football Again”, ABCnews.go.com 4/30/15, Dean Schabner.
2010: 172 NFL concussions from training camp through the playoffs.–The Concussion Blog, December 2013, Dustin Fink.
NFL Concussion Totals by Season: 2011: 252. 2012: 261. 2013: 228. These figures were released by Jeff Miller, the NFL’s senior VP of health and safety policy, at the Super Bowl.—“NFL: 13 percent fewer concussions in ’13 than ’12”, NBC29.com 1/30/14, from AP.
One-third of all concussions were left off the NFL injury report for the 2012 and 2013 seasons (the figures in the above item include most of those). Teams don’t release injury reports until Week 1 of the regular season, meaning most concussions from training camp are left off the list. Also, teams don’t release injury reports after bye weeks or after their final games, both regular season or playoffs. During the above 2 seasons, players returned to play almost half the time without missing a game, despite guidelines endorsed by the NFL Players Association from the American Academy of Neurology stating that athletes are at greatest risk of repeat injuries in the first 10 days post-concussion (the vast majority of games are played weekly). The second half of both seasons accounted for 38 more concussions than the first half. Dustin Fink, a certified athletic trainer who tracks head injuries on “The Concussion Blog”, says the increase can be explained by the repetitive nature of smaller, subconcussive hits. “The theory is that the more of those you sustain, eventually you’re going to lower your threshold for having a concussion.” Cornerbacks and wide receivers sustained the most concussions over these 2 seasons, followed by safeties, tight ends, and running backs and linebackers.—“What We’ve Learned From Two Years of Tracking NFL Concussions”, Frontline on pbs.org 2/4/14, Jason M. Breslow.
A 2005 study by the Center for the Study of Retired Athletes, based at UNC, of 2500 former NFL players, found that cognitive impairment, Alzheimer’s-like symptoms and depression rose in direct proportion to the number of concussions a player had sustained.—NY Times.
Players who have suffered 3 or more concussions have a 5-fold risk for mild cognitive impairment and a 3-fold risk for permanent concussion.—Kevin Guskiewicz, UNC research director.
At the National Institute of Health, researchers have been successful treating concussed mice by passing an antioxidant called glutathione through their skulls immediately after a concussion, reducing brain tissue damage by nearly 70%. MRIs have shown that concussed humans similarly leak from blood vessels lining the skull, which seep down and damage brain tissue, as happens in mice.—“Concussions”, SI The MMQB 4/28/14, Robert Klemko.
UCLA researchers believe they have identified tau in 5 living former NFL players, though they could not definitely determine the protein was tau. The players were between the ages of 45 and 73, and had histories of mood and cognitive problems. Brain scans showed a chemical marker that fastens to tangles of tau gathering in the amygdala and subcortical regions, the same areas where scientists have found tau during autopsies of patients who had CTE. Researchers also found that a higher number of concussions correlated with a greater amount of chemical marker attachment, suggesting more buildup of the protein. Scientists are still trying to determine how the presence of tau may trigger the development of CTE. They are looking at the role of genetics in CTE, since many athletes and military veterans take repeated blows to the head and do not develop the condition. One of the players studied, a former quarterback, appeared to have tau in his brain but showed only signs of aging and not CTE.—“Study finds clue to brain disorder—before death”, SF Chronicle 2013, Drew Joseph.
More than half the NFL’s veterans had taken narcotics during their playing days. Almost three-quarters of this group had misused the drugs, taking them longer and in greater amounts than suggested. 63% received their drugs from a nonmedical source like a trainer instead of a team doctor, which is illegal. A third were using them habitually in retirement. Given the population of 18,000 current NFL retirees, that means at least 3,000 are taking narcotics, and at least 1,500 suffer from pain pill dependence that compounds their chronic conditions.—Same Men’s Journal article as above, referencing an ESPN report on the results of a survey by the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
Dr. Focazio of PAST says many of the NFLers who come to his consortium have what he calls Pan-Athletic Traumatic Syndrome: Crippling injuries to spine and soft tissue, front-brain damage coupled with mood disorders, and “polypharmacy,” mass consumption of many drugs at once, all or most of them prescribed. “Some guys were so toxic, we couldn’t operate on them. They’d have stroked out on the table during surgery.”—Same Men’s Journal article.
ANDRE WATERS, 44, safety with Philadelphia and Arizona, 1984-95, committed suicide on 11/20/06 by shooting himself in the head. Known as one of the NFL’s hardest hitters, and nicknamed “Dirty Waters”, he was often fined for his tackles. According to relatives, he had suffered from depression for a long time, but would not seek professional help, though he recommended it for a relative. Post-mortem examination determined that the condition of his brain tissue would be expected in an 85 year-old man, and there were characteristics of someone being in the early stages of Alzheimer’s.–“The mysterious death of Andre Waters”, Tampa Bay Times 12/11/06, Dave Scheiber. “Pathologist says Waters’ brain tissue had deteriorated”, ESPN.com 1/19/07, Tom Farrey referencing a NY Times story by Alan Schwarz.