Concussions — and more specifically chronic traumatic encephalopathy — have been a hot topic at Super Bowl Week. It started with President Barack Obama’s remarks to The New Republic last weekend and has continued through this week’s media sessions.
USA Today delved into the subject deeper Thursday. Current and former players, including former quarterbacks talked about how they are coping with life after pro football.
Both Ray Lucas and Sean Salisbury have been using alternative methods to overcome concussion problems. Lucas thinks he has degenerative brain disease.
Since retiring from football, Lucas has worked as a broadcaster in the New York market and undergone three neck surgeries and five knee operations. He has battled depression and addiction to pain-killing medication. At one point, Lucas says it took him several hours to get out of bed each day and he estimated that he swallowed 800 pills per month.
In 2010, the married father of three daughters says he contemplated driving his truck off the George Washington Bridge.
“I was a drain on my family, thinking, ‘They’re better off without me,’” he says. “That was a vicious cycle I was on.”
Salisbury has been well known, working for a number of years as analyst for ESPN. He has been involved in peer group work with other former players. He said his life has been changed by Junior Seau’s death.
Salisbury, in town for the Super Bowl, says that Seau’s death was one in a series of events that scared him straight. He considered Seau a close friend.
“Hopefully, they can find a cure for this, to help slow down this disease,” Salisbury says.
As for current players, San Francisco 49ers defensive lineman Justin Smith said he knows the risks and can live with them.
“Everybody knows the factors,” said 49ers defensive tackle Justin Smith. “I don’t think anybody’s really shocked that you might have damage done to you. It’s like any job. There’s going to be risk. Ours is physical, and down the road. When you see older players, with all the brain stuff that’s been brought up, it’s more in the front of everybody’s mind. The main thing is you haven’t seen anybody quit.”
As for Baltimore Ravens center Matt Birk, he is concerned after former players Dave Duerson and Junior Seau took their lives.
“They knew something was wrong with them,” Birk says. “Their depression was so great that they wanted to preserve their brain for study. That’s a scary thing. When you think of suicide, you don’t think someone would think of it that clearly or that far ahead.”
– Bill Bradley, contributing editor