Something’s gotta be done.

“Poor poor Chris Henry”, they used to say. “He’s misunderstood. He’s really not like that usually. He was serious about turning his life around.”

But after his death, the doubts were back.

“Maybe you can’t change” replaced all of the hope that he would get things straight and finally show the consistent talent that fans caught glimpses of once he died last year. But maybe it wasn’t that simple. No, actually, it really wasn’t that simple.

An alarming article that was released today indicated that Henry had a form of degenerative brain damage at the time of his death – something that has been coming up far more frequently than it should, given the state of sports and technology today.

Chris Henry, the Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver who died in a traffic accident last year, had chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) — a form of degenerative brain damage caused by multiple hits to the head — at the time of his death, according to scientists at the Brain Injury Research Institute, a research center affiliated with West Virginia University.


Researchers have now discovered CTE in the brains of more than 50 deceased former athletes, including more than a dozen NFL and college players, pro wrestler Chris Benoit and NHL player Reggie Fleming.

Repeated blows to the head are the only known cause of CTE, researchers say. Concussive hits can trigger a buildup of toxic tau protein within the brain, which in turn can create damaging tangles and threads in the neural fibers that connect brain tissue. Victims can lose control of their impulses, suffer depression and memory loss, and ultimately develop dementia.

Long lasting symptoms and issues arising from concussions are the dirty little secret in sports, and have been for a long time. Whether it is the “macho factor” that makes someone think that he (or she) has been so good for so long that they can overcome a few hits to the head or whether it is just the fact that coaches, teams and players want to do whatever they can to win that they may “shake off” the dizziness or whether it is something else entirely, it ruins lives – regardless what the sport.

Boxing is the obvious example, where the entire sport is based on how hard you can his someone else in the head repeatedly. And wrestling, where steroids, concussions and other health related issues have resulted in a number of high profile deaths in recent years – Chris Benoit being one of the more well known cases in recent memory.

But football (not just Henry, but remember Al “8 concussions” Toon?) has been a sport where high profile deaths only seem to briefly bring post concussion symptoms and health issues to the discussion (like Mike Webster, among others). Hockey had one of its “golden can’t miss superstars of a generation”, Eric Lindros, have his career marred by concussions, and even the requirement of helmets hasn’t stopped the stream of concussions as a total of close to 760 NHL players were diagnosed with concussions between 1997 and 2008.

While this obviously isn’t limited to sports, since this is a sports blog, I’ll stay in that area. The Sports Legacy Institute, is doing some major research into the area of brain injuries and CTE. The SLI, Christopher Nowinski and Boston University School of Medicine are working together to try and solve this crisis in sports (as well as the military). Hopefully one day, many less players will suffer from these injuries, fans can watch without wondering whether a player is going to “come back from that hit” and players can have a career, as well as post career life that isn’t cut needlessly short.

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One Comment

  1. Russ Wellen
    Posted June 29, 2010 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

    A stray thought: It might help changes people’s attitudes if getting bonked on the head were removed as a staple of slapstick humor. (Spoken as one who grew up on the Three Stooges. But it’s as prevalent as ever in film comedies.)

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