As part of an ongoing series titled “Football’s Future: Another Perspective”, Steelers Digest editor Bob Labriola focused on the possible connection between concussions, chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and suicide — most notably in the cases of Junior Seau and Jovan Belcher. While some were quick to blame football for the fate of some former players, Labriola came to a different pronouncement.
The accurate answer is: the science remains unproven.
To reinforce the point, Labriola includes comments from Dr. Jeffrey Kutcher, director of the Michigan Neurosport Program at the University of Michigan. Dr. Kutcher asserted that “concern about repetitive head injury is still there, but the science is still too early,” while surmising that providing such a basic reasoning for suicide could have the effect of adding to the suicide rate.
In the same interview, Kutcher went on to add: “This idea of providing simplistic explanations for suicide drives up the suicide rate. You’re giving people in that category a lack of hope — a reason to not seek treatment but seek a way out.”
Additionally, a pair of European studies lend credence to the thesis that there is still much to learn about the lasting effects of concussion.
The Third International Conference on Concussion in Sport met most recently in Zurich, Switzerland, in November 2008, and part of its Consensus Statement read, “The authors acknowledge that the science of concussion is evolving, and therefore management and return-to-play (RTP) decisions remain in the realm of clinical judgment on an individualized basis.”
And the University of Thessaly in Greece, in a 2010 study, suggested a link between genetics and the effects of head injury: “Accumulating evidence has implicated various genetic elements in the pathophysiology of brain trauma. The extent of brain injury after TBI (traumatic brain injury) seems to be modulated to some degree by genetic variants.”
With so much reporting on brain injuries and their suspected effects, it’s understandable that athletes and parents of athletes are exercising more caution when it comes to the game of football. Yet with as much as we have learned, it is important to remember that there is still much more to be discovered.
– Marcas Grant, contributing editor