Medical researchers recently confirmed what many had already suspected. Junior Seau, the former NFL linebacker who killed himself last spring, suffered from degenerative brain disease -- most likely the result of multiple hits to the head accumulated during his football career.
There have been a number of developments in the public’s – and football players’ – desire to understand the causes of degenerative brain disease, including news on Tuesday that the NFL player’s union is donating $100 million to Harvard University for brain injury research.
As it happens, Seau’s death came just days before I wrote a column last May about the Steve James documentary “Head Games,” which lays out the medical and real-world consequences of sports concussions. Former athletes in their 40s (like Seau, who was 43) are finding their memories shot, their personalities changed, their impulse control compromised. Many suffer from depression.
As traumatized as Seau might been at the time of his death, he had the presence of mind to ensure his brain tissue would be preserved for researchers.
I’ve thought a lot about Seau and James’ film these past few months as I’ve sat down to watch the NFL. The Super Bowl is just around the corner, and I will watch it with mixed feelings. Part of the appeal is football’s smash-mouth mentality, but who wants the lives of these athletes ruined for the sake of a game? The league is facing a number of lawsuits on this front that will surely lead to substantial rule changes.
What does this mean for the future of the NFL? Will the game change dramatically -- eventually morphing into something that resembles flag football? We’ll examine some of the possible outcomes after a screening of “Head Games” Jan. 30 here at the Tribune Tower followed by a panel discussion.
After the screening, I'll sit down with Tribune deputy sports editor Tim Bannon, WGN Radio host and former Chicago Bears player Glen Kozlowski and Northwestern professor and sports writer Bill Savage to discuss whether professional and youth sports leagues are taking head injuries seriously enough — and how the issue could change the face of sports in dramatic ways.
-- Nina Metz
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