Monday, June 28, 2010

Chris Henry's Brain Offers Reprimand of NFL Complicity

Just over six months ago, tragedy struck the NFL when troubled Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Chris Henry was thrown from the back of a pickup truck and killed after an altercation with his fiancĂ©e. Friends and colleagues noted Henry’s sincere attempts to change his previous ways.

Today we understand more about Henry’s behaviors.

In a sensational article by the Post-Gazette’s Chuck Finder, we’re offered a look inside the brain of Chris Henry and a scathing critique of safety in the NFL.

It’s a lengthy and in-depth read, so you’re pressed for time, the article simply discusses how Henry likely suffered from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), the same disease attributed to the depression and eventual deaths of former Steelers Mike Webster and Justin Strzelczyk. People who suffer from CTE have similar behaviors to those with Alzheimer’s or dementia. According to doctors, the tissue in Henry’s brain was very similar to someone eighty or ninety years old. According to Finder, Henry is the first active player to be diagnosed with CTE.

Taken alone, the article is disturbing enough. However, when all things are considered, it becomes shocking. Food for thought:

1. Henry was NEVER diagnosed with a concussion through high school, college or pro football.

2. Henry is by far the youngest football player (he was 26 at the time of his death) to ever be diagnosed with CTE. Mike Webster and Justin Strzelczyk were both long retired before experiencing serious troubles.

3. In comparison to Webster and Strzelczyk (both offensive lineman), Henry played a fairly docile position (wide receiver). While Webster and Strzelczyk were getting hit on every play, Henry was not.

When most people think about head injuries in the NFL, they think of the lineman or linebackers. Large men in the trenches putting their bodies on the line every single play. Outside of a kicker, the position of wide receiver is the least punishing. However, here is a wide receiver that was clearly suffering from severe trauma.

Let this situation serve as an indictment of the NFL’s lack of concern about the safety of their sport. I consider myself to be a typical football fan. What has always attracted me to the game is the passion and physical play. However, when that physicality begins to put people’s lives at risk; and Finder’s article DOES attribute many of Henry’s behaviors to the injuries he sustained, the NFL must re-evaluate its priorities. If a 26 year old wide receiver with no concussion history has the brain tissue of an 80 year old, something is drastically askew.

As players get bigger and stronger, the problem will get worse. Action needs to be taken now. If you have to outlaw head shots, do it. The sport and its fans will adapt. If they don’t, they were never fans to begin with.

Men like Chris Henry, Mike Webster, Justin Strzelczyk and many others cannot have died in vain. If this type of damage happened to Henry, it can happen to everybody and anybody in football.

In what has already been an extremely tumultuous offseason for the National Football League, this story will be overshadowed by the Roethlisberger situation, among others. Don’t be fooled. This is the most important thing that’s happened involving the NFL this year.

Don’t be afraid to stand up and hold the NFL responsible.

Note: I’ll update later tonight about the other happenings of the past weekend in sports. This was simply to important to skim over.

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