Junior Seau, Mike Webster, and Andre Waters to name a few. All former football players who endured years of self-mutilation, constant confusion, and memory loss. Uncontrollable anger outbursts were frequent, and the men went down pleading for help. Constant pain and suffering left the men severely impaired. These men suffered from a disease called chronic traumatic encephalopathy, caused by years of concussions and injuries to the head. Their deaths were swept under the rug by many as “coincidence”, until Dr. Bennet Omalu came along.
Dr. Omalu came to America from Nigeria in 1994 to pursue a doctoral career in the United States. At the time, he already possessed his Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery degrees from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. After being assigned to the autopsy of the aforementioned former Pittsburgh Steelers legend, Mike Webster, Omalu immediately became fascinated with the game of football and specifically, the injuries sustained within. He found large quantities of tau protein affecting Webster’s brain in a similar way as Alzheimer’s disease would. Omalu named the condition “chronic traumatic encephalopathy”, or CTE for short. In 2005, with other medical associates assisting him, he published his findings in the journal “Neurosurgery”. From there, the uphill battle against the NFL began. Omalu’s reports took off, but in May 2006, members of the NFL’s “Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Committee called for its disavowal. Omalu and his associates kept producing more and more evidence until the NFL was no longer able to sweep the issue under the rug. In 2009, seven years after Omalu’s discovery, the NFL openly acknowledged the links between concussions and CTE.
One of the latest victims to this terrible disease is former Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher. Belcher, a standout player for his high school, wasn’t really sought after by many high-tier programs entering college. Nonetheless, Belcher played at the University of Maine and was able to earn his spot on an NFL team, becoming a mainstay on the Chiefs defense over the course of three seasons. However, on December 12, something inexplicable happened. Belcher, only 25 years old at the time, murdered his girlfriend, 22-year-old Kasandra Perkins, before driving to the Chiefs practice facility and turning the gun on himself. No one saw this coming. Belcher and his girlfriend had recently had a daughter, Zoey. Post-mortem tests indicated that Jovan Belcher also had CTE.
Overall, football is a violent sport. Concussions occur frequently. The NFL, which was initially stubborn and dismissive of the links between concussions and CTE, has now accepted the evidence and is working hard to come up with a solution. Players are protected now more than ever. The NCAA, which governs college football, issues an automatic ejection and one-half suspension for “targeting”. While progress is being made, the issues of head injuries and their consequences still lie in the game of football.