ERIK KRAMER, 50, quarterback with Atlanta, Detroit, Chicago and San Diego, 1987-99, shot himself on 8/18/15 in what his former wife, Marshawn Kramer, called a suicide attempt. The two divorced in 2010, with Marshawn telling NBC News: “I know Erik and I would still be together if not for his football injury.” She called it a “brain injury.” “He is a very amazing man, a beautiful soul, but he has suffered depression since he was with the (Chicago) Bears,” Kramer said. “I can promise you he is not the same man I married.” Kramer spent five seasons with the Bears, three with Detroit and one each with Atlanta and San Diego (plus three with Calgary in the CFL). He started 67 games over his 10-year career, throwing for 15,337 yards, 92 touchdowns and 79 interceptions. Kramer’s son, Griffen, died of a heroin overdose in 2011. A quarterback at Thousand Oaks High School in California at the time, Griffen Kramer had battled drug abuse in the past. The couple has another son, 17-year-old Dillon. Marshawn Kramer said Erik Kramer is a wonderful father who adored his son. “He’s such a good dad and he would not do this to his son,” she said. “This is brain injury.”–“Erik Kramer suffers non-life-threatening gunshot wound, report says”, ESPN.com News Services 8/19/15. “Ex-NFL QB Erik Kramer Wounded in Apparent Suicide Attempt”, NBCnews.com 8/20/15, Andrew Blankstein and Phil Helsel.
RIDGE BARDEN, 16, defensive tackle with John C Birdlebough HS (NY), died on 10/14/11 after suffering a subdural hematoma, a brain bleed, in a game. Teenagers are especially susceptible to having multiple hits to the head result in brain bleeds and massive swelling, largely because the brain tissue has not yet fully developed. According to the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research, Barden was the 13th high school player to die from a brain injury sustained on a football field since 2005 and the third in 2011. Including college and youth football players, there have been 18 fatalities from 2005 to 2011. Barden had no history of head trauma and showed no concussion symptoms, his coaches and father said. The Cortland County coroner’s office said the autopsy showed no evidence of a pre-existing problem. A review of game video showed no extraordinary hit that incapacitated Barden. The coaching staff deduced that the critical blow was sustained on Barden’s second-to-last play, a routine collision with an opposing lineman at the line of scrimmage. But Barden appeared to be fine as he prepared for the next play. At first, after collapsing, he was groggy but responsive and coherent, head coach Jeff Charles said. Barden told his coach that he had sustained a helmet-to-helmet hit and that his head hurt. Barden rolled over on his back then sat up on his own, but his condition quickly deteriorated. He began moaning and closing his eyes. When asked to stand up, he tried but immediately collapsed. The emergency technicians planned to take Barden to University Hospital in Syracuse, about 45 minutes away, but they rerouted when Barden went into cardiac arrest. While the crew performed CPR, the ambulance drove three minutes to Cortland Medical Center instead. When Barden’s father and grandmother arrived from Phoenix, NY, the doctor told them he was dying and only CPR was keeping him alive. At 10:18 p.m., less than two hours after the seemingly ordinary play at the 6-yard line, Barden was pronounced dead. Dr. Robert Cantu, a neurosurgeon at Boston University and a leading expert in sports-related head injuries, said that in cases similar to Barden’s, in which the person was conscious right after the hit before quickly deteriorating, he had discovered that the subdural hematoma was not the cause of death but rather massive brain swelling. And in many cases the condition began with a previous hit and a second impact was the lethal blow. He could not comment on Barden’s specific case without examining his brain. Barden was a straight-A student who would walk a long way from home to school for voluntary workouts in the summer. His last game was his first start with the varsity team. The community was left wondering what could have been done differently. Coach Charles contemplated whether he could return to coaching football. His team’s last game of the season was canceled. Barden’s father, Jody, said he had no objection to the sport in the wake of his son’s death. “I just don’t want a negative spin on this. There is no blame in this. I don’t want to scare kids from playing the game. Ridge loved playing the game, and I know he wouldn’t want it to get a bad name.”–“An Ordinary Football Game, Then a Player Dies”, NY Times 10/19/11, Jorge Castillo.
NFL actuaries estimate that 28% of NFL players will be diagnosed with a debilitating brain injury. A 1994 Holy Cross study showed that on average, the longer a player’s career, the shorter his lifespan.–“The Damage to NFL Players”, The New York Review of Books 3/19/15, Nathaniel Rich.
TAYLOR DAVISON, 10, the only girl on her team in the Bartlett (IL) Raiders Athletic Association, died on 9/2/02 from a blow to the head that led to a blood clot on the right side of her brain. She collapsed as she walked off the field with her coach. The Cook County medical examiner’s office ruled that her death was caused by blunt trauma that led to a clot under the surface of her brain, saying that she had been hit during a full-contact practice earlier in the week. Taylor’s mother, Susan Davison, questioned the ruling, saying doctors had told her that her daughter had malformed blood vessels in her brain because she was a premature infant. Dr. John Grant, a neurosurgeon at Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago, said it would’ve taken a serious hit to cause the type of injury described in the medical examiner’s report. She played several positions, including nose tackle, on a team with members in the 90 pound range. Barry Brinn, president of the athletic association, defended his coaches and said, “There was no specific instance that you could pick out, no particular time when she was tackled that you could say, ‘That was the one.’” Peggy Lawson, an aunt who spoke for the family, said Taylor’s death was simply a tragic accident. “I wouldn’t discourage any of them from playing football.” Taylor was an avid horseback rider, good at math and science, and outgoing. She was protective of her twin brother, Tremor, who got her interested in football and is a player himself. “For some reason she loved being competitive with the boys,” said her father, Todd Davison. “She begged to be on the team. She wanted to practice every day, and she cried last year when the season was over.”–“Girl dies after collapsing at football practice”, USAtoday.com 9/4/02, Martha Irvine, AP. “Medical examiner: Death caused by blunt trauma”, ESPN.com 9/4/02, AP.
TYLER LEWELLEN, 16, junior linebacker with Arlington HS (CA), died on 8/28/13 after collapsing during an 8/22/13 scrimmage. He made a touchdown-saving tackle, came to the sideline and asked for a pain-reliever, but collapsed right after, had a series of seizures, and lost consciousness. His parents, Tina and Bobby York, were not at the scrimmage and were notified by phone of their son’s condition. Lewellen survived surgery to relieve pressure from swelling caused by a brain bleed, but died 6 days later. His organs were donated. Lewellen was popular in the community and known for his ability to make everyone feel included.—“Family Of Riverside Teen Who Died After Football Scrimmage Shares Story”, CBSLA.com 10/22/13, Tom Wait. [I learned of this football death from ChaneysBlog.com.]
PEYTON FLOWERS, 18, linebacker and running back with Loyd Star (MS), died on 11/6/14, six days after suffering an apparent brain injury in a homecoming game against West Lincoln. He asked for a break in the third quarter, fell unconscious on the sideline shortly thereafter, and was airlifted to the University of Mississippi Medical Center. The cause of death has not been released per family request. Flowers became the ninth high school player to die directly from football in the 2014 season, the most since 11 died in 1986, according to the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Research at UNC Chapel Hill. A 2-way player, he played most every offensive and defensive series. Flowers was named after NFL quarterback Peyton Manning, whose father, Archie, expressed condolences to the family.—“Loyd Star linebacker Peyton Flowers has died”, Clarion-Ledger 11/7/14, Courtney Cronin & Therese Apel. “Mississippi linebacker becomes ninth player to die this season”, USA Today 11/6/14, Courtney Cronin, Therese Apel & Cam Smith. [I learned of this football death from Chaney’s Blog.]
TONY JEFFERSON, 22, safety with Arizona, 2013-14, pulled over for 30 minutes while driving on 10/26/14 after a game in which he’d made 11 tackles on 73 snaps, realizing something wasn’t right. “I don’t really remember the game…I was like, ‘What just happened?’ I don’t remember what happened. It was kinda scary. I went home and watched the film on the iPad. It was like seeing you on auto pilot. It was pretty weird.” Jefferson was diagnosed with a concussion the next morning. He passed concussion protocol 3 days later and was cleared for limited practice. “This is your brain you’re talking about…We got a long season ahead of us; I don’t want to rush back.”—“Tony Jefferson deals with concussion”, ESPN.com 10/31/14, Josh Weinfuss.
UNC study of nearly 3,000 former NFL players: 13.5% incidence of depression in the 35-to-44 age group compared with 8% in the general population. 11% incidence of depression for ex-NFLers in the 45-to-54 age group compared with 8% in the general population. “Some of it may be from the effects of concussions, but I think it’s multifactorial. The withdrawal from the sport is a big factor, otherwise you wouldn’t see the disparity…further out in time,” according to Kevin Guskiewicz, neuroscientist and director of the UNC Center for the Study of Retired Athletes.
“A growing body of work suggests that the accumulation of smaller hits, those that do not cause concussion, may be as important or more so to the total damage.”
“Researchers in the Purdue Neurotrauma Group, who have been studying brain injury in high school players, now recommend that coaches think of hits the way baseball managers think of pitches and impose strict weekly limits.”
“Separately, a study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health found fewer than half as many suicides among a cohort of 3,439 retired players as would be expected in a similar group from the general population.”
The above 4 items are from the Junior Seau SI article above them.