Dr. Daniel Amen, one of the nation’s most respect neurologists -- who frequently discusses football related brain injuries during Congressional hearings – dropped the bomb on Saturday evening when his Public Broadcasting TV show “The Amen Solution” revealed his view – after studying the brains of hundreds of former NFL football players – that “if you played football, you probably have some sort of brain damage.”
At the same time, parents of high school and college football players -- who recently attended a concussion consciousness workshop at the famed Slocum Center for Orthopedics and Sports Medicine here in Eugene -- noted that the new guidance for concussion prevention mirrors Amen’s public appeal to stop the madness and “protect football player’s brains.”
“Slocum has become one of the nation’s leaders in awareness about concussions,” said one Eugene parent who also noted that that prior to his son’s brain injury -- due to a football related concussion -- “I never thought much about it.”
Eugene serves as a center for sports related injuries
According to a Slocum Center fact sheet, “A concussion is a mild traumatic brain injury that interferes with normal brain function. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates there are 300,000 sports concussions among children and adolescents each year in the United States. It is usually caused by a blow to the head, but may occur with a whiplash injury, or when the head strikes the ground. Only about 5-10% of people are knocked unconscious with a concussion. Most are confused, dazed, or complain of a headache. It can be fatal.”
At the same time, the University of Oregon director of athletic medicine, Dr. Greg Skaggs has noted during numerous media interviews that the subject of player brain safety is deadly serious for the Oregon Ducks football team as they take precautions to include benching a player who’s suffering from a concussion.
Amen’s controversial claim -- that all people who’ve played the game of football in tackle and high impact contests have some sort of brain damage – comes in the wake of NFL player Dave Duerson’s death wish that his brain be studied to help other pro football players.
It’s been revealed that most NFL players suffer as many as 15 or more concussions during their high school, college and professional playing careers. In turn, “concussion consciousness” has become the talk of the town here in Eugene where the University of Oregon “Ducks” and a number of high school football teams play football.
Duerson legacy is to stop football concussions
Duerson, a former Chicago Bears safety who recently died after shooting himself in the chest, had requested in his will that his brain be examined after the years of regular concussions he suffered on the playing field.
Duerson reportedly asked that his brain be examined for “chronic traumatic encephalopathy,” a degenerative disease that doctors say is caused by repeated concussions to the head. It’s known that many former football players now suffer from post-concussion illnesses that include the same depression that led Duerson to commit suicide.
There's been dozens of other related suicides by football players who've suffered regular concussions on the football field. In fact, An NFL study of more than 1,000 football players found 60 to 70 percent had suffered at least one major concussion in their careers, and 26 percent had had three or more.
Those who had concussions reported serious memory problems, as well as issues with concentration, speech, headaches and a host of serious neurological problems.
At the same time, more than 50 high school football players have been killed or sustained serious head injuries after a concussion during the past 10 years. This research, requested by Congress, also looked at some 1.2 million teens that play high school or college football and are at risk for concussions.
Doctor Amen states that nothing can really protect a football player’s brain on the field
Amen, who’s brain reports on more than 350 PBS affiliate TV stations were surveyed by the respected Roper organization, and showed that “Americans consider PBS the nation’s most trusted institution among nationally known organizations,” with Amen’s brain health reports scoring some of the highest ratings for PBS in recent years.
During his recent presentation about why football players brains suffer extreme distress during a typical game “where they get hit over and over by big players,” Amen noted his recent public writings on line about the need for the NFL and college and high school football programs to “do something about this repeated brain injury.”
For instance, the following statements were made by Dr. Amen – towards the end of the regular NFL season -- on his Internet page for football safety:
“Concussions: It has been a particularly bad few weekends for the NFL as far as brain health goes. Violent tackles this weekend and last left multiple players with concussions, head injuries, and spinal cord injuries.
-- The Falcons' cornerback Dunta Robinson collided so violently with the Eagles' wide receiver DeSean Jackson that both of them left the game with concussions. Reports say that Jackson is suffering from memory loss.
-- The Patriots' safety Brandon Meriweather launched himself like a human missile and plastered the Ravens' tight end Todd Heap with a vicious helmet-to-helmet hit.
-- The Steelers' outside linebacker James Harrison sent the Browns' Joshua Cribbs and Mohamed Massaquoi to the sidelines with head injuries.
-- Detroit linebacker Zac Follett was hauled off the field on a backboard with a spinal cord injury but has been pronounced OK.
“The carnage didn't go unnoticed by the NFL. What I'm calling "Brain Injury Sunday" could prove to be a seminal moment in NFL history that permanently changes the way the game is played,” writes Amen.
Moreover, Amen reports that “the NFL has announced that it will immediately begin suspending players for vicious hits, especially those involving helmets. Previously, players were either fined or ejected for illegal hits.”
“I hope the harsher punishments result in fewer brain injuries,” Amen writes. “But I understand how it can be confusing for NFL players to switch gears. They were taught to be aggressive and have been playing that way throughout their careers, and now all the rule changes are causing them to wonder how to play the game.”
Moreover, Amen states that “changing lifelong habits isn't as easy as making a quick cut to change directions on the playing field. That's because the brain is hardwired to resist change.”
Doctor Amen reports on concussion solutions
During his recent PBS lecture on promoting brain health, Amen noted his recent work with more than 100 NFL retired players. He then asserted that “all have serious brain damage.”
Amen then explained that a linebacker who practices a "head-first" tackle mentality will eventually tackle this way without having to think about it. “That's because he has been steadily stimulating the synapses in the neurons that control his movements so he can execute the tackle in that manner.”
He has "potentiated" his neurons in just the right way to accomplish that goal, he asserted.
“To rewire his brain, he will have to overwrite old neural pathways with new ones, and that takes time. Even so, I'm confident that with practice and a commitment to change, NFL players can make the adjustment. The transition will take some work getting used to, but it is absolutely essential if the game will continue. And it is of the utmost importance to the brain health of NFL players. And in my opinion, that should be the NFL's #1 priority,” says Amen.