The current collective bargaining drama involves the NFL and the NFL Players Association. While financial issues are central to most employment agreements, this negotiation appears to have a focus on safety.
Dave Duerson was a 50-year-old, successful businessman and former Chicago Bears safety. In recent years, his life began to unravel with marital problems, business failures, uncharacteristic temper outbursts and an inability to remember simple information.
Duerson was diagnosed with Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) as a result of the multiple concussions he had suffered during his years of playing football. He was also an active NFL alumnus fighting for better health benefits for retired players and making the game safer for younger players.
Unable to face a future of dementia, on Feb. 17, Duerson committed suicide by shooting himself in the chest. He chose this manner to preserve his brain for future study. His desperate action has placed a new light on the current negotiations.
Neuropathologists around the world have recently begun to delve into the study of cumulative brain trauma and subsequent Alzheimer’s-like dementia. Some studies have shown changes in the brains of teenage athletes involved in violent collision sports like football and hockey.
“There is no reason, no medical justification, for any child younger than 18 to play football, period,” said Dr. Bennet Omalu, a neuropathologist in California. His opinion is based on studies emphasizing the importance of brain development in the first 18 years of life and the fact that when brain cells are destroyed there is no cellular recovery.
Young people everywhere often believe they are indestructible and are willing to take unacceptable risks for financial reward. The NFL is no exception. It will be interesting to see if the wisdom of elder veterans will direct these negotiations.