Scott Ross

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”, 8/15/15, LA Daily News, Mark Whicker.

Curtis Brown

CURTIS BROWN, 60, running back with Buffalo and Houston, 1977-83, died on 7/30/15 from a heart attack after suffering from dementia.  He replaced O.J. Simpson in the Bills backfield after Simpson was traded in 1978.  He suffered four concussions while playing.  “We really think of the reported concussions like the four that Mr. Brown reported, as potentially the tip of an iceberg,” his neurologist, Dr. David Brady, said in 2013. “There might be a lot under the surface that we don’t know about.”  Brown was an all-state running back at St. Charles High School in the 1970s. In 1976 at the University of Missouri, Brown starred in the Tigers’ road upsets against USC and Ohio State, both ranked in the top 10.  In the USC game, Brown rushed for 101 yards and scored three times, including a 95-yard kickoff return and a 49-yard TD pass.  When asked in 2013 if he would do anything differently, Brown said, “I’d live my life the same.”  His mother, Marian Brown, felt much differently. “If I had it to do all over again, my child would go into a different sport because I just don’t feel the same about even watching the game.”–“Ex-Bill Curtis Brown, O.J. Simpson’s successor, dies”, & KSDK TV 7/31/15, Art Holliday.

Pete Duranko

PETE DURANKO, 67, defensive end with Denver, 1967-74, died on 7/8/11 after suffering from ALS (diagnosed in 1999) & dementia (diagnosed in 2010), and was found to have CTE.  He was trached and on oxygen and a ventilator for his last 5 years.  His wife, Janet Duranko, fought the NFL for years to get Pete on the NFL’s “88 Plan” for the last year of his life.  “I am thankful,” said his wife. “At least I’m praying that with the settlement all the retired players with ALS, dementia and declining health won’t have to go through  what Pete and I did, medical expenses, financial hardship and refusals for help from the NFL.  My sons and I watched him die for twelve years.”–Janet Duranko on Dave Pear’s Blog, 2/21/14.  (Pear was Duranko’s camp roommate in Duranko’s last season.) 

Letter From a Long-Time Coach

Letter: Don’t let young kids play tackle football 

By Bill Perkins  

It doesn’t surprise me that children 8 to 14 years old want to play tackle football. What surprises me is that any parents allow it.

I love football. I coached high school and college football for 37 years. I’ve seen my share of concussions and traumatic brain injuries (some requiring players to drop out of school to recover); ACL tears and subsequent surgery and nine months or more of painful rehabilitation. I’ve witnessed neck and spinal cord injuries; one resulting in the player becoming a quadriplegic. Other serious injuries included broken femurs, dislocated elbows (both requiring surgery), etc.

These injuries were all tragic. Short term — they were painful and required long rehabilitation. Long term — the effects won’t be known for decades (early dementia, premature knee and hip replacement surgery, etc.).

In all the above cases these were highly trained, well coached, well equipped college or high school players. The pain and suffering as a result of traumatic injury to a college or high school athlete is devastating. I can’t imagine the effect of these types of injuries happening to a child aged 11 to 14.

There are many reasons to not allow young children to play tackle football and few, if any, reasons to allow them to play. Most of the skills kids will need to be compete in high school football can be developed by playing flag football or even just playing anything (soccer, track, basketball, etc.). Blocking and tackling can and should wait until high school when children’s bodies are more mature and resilient and the coaches are well trained, skilled and experienced.

Here is a list of reasons why to not allow kids to play youth tackle football (pre-high school, Pop Warner/Parks and Recreation):

1. Lack of trained and experienced coaches: The highest level of coaching is NFL, next is collegiate, followed by high school and finally youth football. Consider the words of Hall of Fame receiver Cris Carter, “Our worst coaches are coaching the most critical position, and that is the 9, 10, 11-year-olds … “

2. Lack of certified training staff at practices: Many, if not most, concussions occur in practice and many are not diagnosed even at the highest levels of coaching. Certified trainers are an integral part of injury treatment and diagnosis as well as prevention.

3. Risk of head and neck trauma: Current research indicates that much of the permanent damage to the brain is the result of repetitive concussion syndrome. The brains of younger children are more vulnerable than when those same children are older and more physically developed. Consider the words of physician Ann McKee, chief neuropathologist at Boston University who explains, “Because a young athlete’s brain is still developing, the effects of a concussion, or even many smaller hits over a season, can be far more detrimental, compared to the head injury of an older player.”

4. Risk of injuries other than concussion: ACL tears requiring surgery and months of rehabilitation. Spinal cord injury and possible loss of mobility as a result.

List of reasons to allow kids to play tackle football prior to high school:

1. I’ll have to think about it and get back to you …

Pre-high school tackle football should be outlawed. I was shocked to learn recently that Bend-La Pine Schools support and sponsor middle school tackle football. Why? Especially when there is no correlation between youth football success and high school football success.

Football is a wonderful sport, but it should be illegal to subject young children to the brutality of tackle football before they are physically ready. It simply isn’t worth the risk.

I encourage all of you and especially the school board and the Bend Park and Recreation leadership to view the documentary, “The United States of Football.”

“Dancing is a contact sport … football is a collision sport.” — Vince Lombardi.

Let ’em play anything and everything except tackle football until they get to high school … please!

— Bill Perkins lives in Bend.

Shrunken Brains

Date: May 18, 2015–Source: UT Southwestern Medical Center

Summary: In the first study of its kind, former National Football League (NFL) players who lost consciousness due to concussion during their playing days showed key differences in brain structure later in life.

The hippocampus, a part of the brain involved in memory, was found to be smaller in 28 former NFL players as compared with a control group of men of similar age and education.  “While we found that aging individuals with a history of concussion and loss of consciousness showed smaller hippocampal volumes and lower memory test scores, the good news is that we did not detect a similar relationship among subjects with a history of concussion that did not involve loss of consciousness, which represents the vast majority of concussions,” said Dr. Munro Cullum, who holds the Pam Blumenthal Distinguished Professorship in Clinical Psychology.  Some of the retired NFL players also met criteria for Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI), a condition that typically affects memory and may lead to dementia.  The findings were more pronounced among those who experienced more severe concussions.  The 28 former players ranged from 36 to 79 years old, with a mean age of 58.  Twenty-one healthy men of similar age, educational level, and intelligence with no history of concussion or professional football experience served as control subjects. The results do not explain why the hippocampus was smaller in the athletes who suffered more serious concussions.  Some shrinkage is a part of the normal aging process but the reduction is accentuated in MCI and was even more notable in those MCI subjects with a history of concussion accompanied by loss of consciousness.  Thus, there appears to be a cumulative effect of concussion history and MCI on hippocampal size and function.–“Concussion in former NFL players related to brain changes later in life”, 5/18/15.



Gary Plummer

GARY PLUMMER, 55, linebacker with San Diego and San Francisco, 1986-97, was diagnosed with early onset dementia in November 2014. “Your helmet is a weapon, and it always has been,” he said. “I had a headache for 11 straight years.” Plummer was in denial about the trauma to his head and didn’t think he’d ever had a concussion, since he’d never been knocked out cold. He once stormed out of a panel discussion on concussions organized by agent Leigh Steinberg after yelling, “You guys are a joke.” He said he felt reassured by “being lied to by the NFL.” He worked for years as a 49ers radio analyst, but when he started working for the Pac-12 Network, he struggled with memory. “I couldn’t think fast.” While playing, Plummer, who also played 3 years in the USFL, believed that players who retired because of injury were weak.  He’s also suffered from depression, especially after the suicide of his good friend and former teammate Junior Seau, who committed suicide in May 2012 by shooting himself and was found to have CTE.—“Young 49er’s retirement kick-starts discussion about the dangers of football”, SF Chronicle 3/18/15, Ann Killion. “League of Denial”, Steve Fainaru & Mark Fainaru-Wada.

Tommy Mason

TOMMY MASON, 75, running back with Minnesota, LA Rams and Washington, 1961-71, died on 1/22/15. The first draft pick in Vikings history suffered multiple concussions during his career and was part of the “88 Plan,” a program that provides up to $88,000 per year for care for former players suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s.—SF Chronicle 1/23/15, AP.

Doug Cunningham

DOUG CUNNINGHAM, 69, running back with San Francisco and Washington, 1967-74, died on 1/13/15 from complications of dementia in Jackson, MS. A fine runner with blazing speed and shifty moves, he’s a member of both the Ole Miss and Mississippi Sports Halls of Fame.—“Ex-49ers running back Doug Cunningham dies in hospital at 69”, SF Examiner 1/14/15, AP.

Damaged But Left Out

Boston University researcher Robert Stern said that many of the 76 deceased NFL players found to have CTE would not have qualified for awards under the $765 million concussion settlement had they lived, because some never developed dementia, Alzheimer’s and other neurological problems covered.  Retirees who exhibit mood swings, aggression, depression or other aberrant behavior, which can be indicators of CTE, would not be compensated.—“Concussions”, Chronicle News Services 10/9/14.

Steve Gleason

STEVE GLEASON, 37, safety/special teamer with New Orleans, 2000-07, was diagnosed with ALS in January 2010.  He is best known for blocking a punt versus Atlanta in the first game back in the Superdome after Hurricane Katrina, spurring the Saints to victory on 9/25/06.  Coach Sean Peyton said the crowd’s reaction was “probably the loudest I’ve ever heard any stadium—ever.”  He and his wife, Michel, had been seeing fertility specialists when Gleason was diagnosed, trying to have their first child.  Though faced with the prospect of supporting and caring for both father and child, she elected to go ahead and conceive.  Their son Rivers was born in October 2011.  Most people live 3 to 5 years after an ALS diagnosis.  Scientific studies have shown increasing links between brain disease, such as dementia, and the frequency of concussions among football players.  The question of whether Gleason regrets playing football is a complicated one, because he cannot be certain that he would have been spared from ALS had he never played football.  Dr. Steve Perrin, the chief scientific officer at the ALS Therapy Development Institute in Cambridge, Mass., said he is aware of 27 cases of NFL players being diagnosed with ALS, which is much higher than any other major American pro sport.  He noted that there are no documented cases of NHL players with ALS, which remains a relatively rare disease in general.  Gleason has a non-profit to help people with ALS and muscular diseases at (donations to The Gleason Family Trust can also be made there).—“Steve Gleason diagnosed with ALS”, 9/25/11, from AP.