Retired football players exhibit high rates of dementia

So says this study.

I thought that everybody knew that. Football players generally suffer more severe injuries than the general public and have much more physical difficulty as they get older. As a Steelers fan I am quite familiar with the textbook case in this regard, Mike Webster.

So, why is this a surprise to anybody? How could it be a surprise to anybody? More to the point, why should we care? These guys are well compensated for what they do, they choose to do it of their own free will, and they can’t possibly claim that they have no idea that it might happen to them. Even the dumbest football player out there has been on the sideline with some sort of severe injury at one time or another. They get their skulls rattled on virtually every play, it’s inevitable that they will suffer concussions and the like. for every dramatic one you see on TV there have to be hundreds of them. In the case of Mike Webster, a doctor said that he suffered the equivalent of 25,000 car collisions in his career. Who could sustain that and NOT be a vegetable?

If they don’t want to deal with debilitating, crippling injuries when they get older, they need not play. There is little more that we can do to protect these guys short of fundamentally changing the way the game is played or banning it outright, and neither of those are practical in any case. So they take their chances, and sometimes they roll craps. That’s my stance on the matter. And truthfully, I’d roll the dice and take my chances if I could. I’m sure a lot of people would.

Rather than accepting it as inevitable or not playing at all, perhaps technological improvements incorporated into the equipment, the helmet and shoulderpads specifically, will provide an adequate or at least improved level of protection someday.

I didn’t know that about Webster. That kinda surprises me. Not that any individual is immune but I would have guessed that offensive linemen in fact would suffer at a lower rate than those who routinely generate much more speed in their respective positions, someone like wide receivers and safeties for example.

ETA: After reading the article about what Webster took just for his pain and assorted ailments, I wonder if that complex pharmaceutical coctail didn’t add to the dementia as well.

I agree with your basic stance, and I doubt that anyone is really surprised by the results of the study. Still, it’s valuable to have specific, reliable data. NFL players (and younger players and their families) can make a more informed decision on whether to play, and spectators can make a more informed decision on whether they’re comfortable watching. Maybe this study will convince the NFL to make some rule or equipment changes, to reduce these injuries at least a little bit.

Having said all that, I definitely agree that people should be allowed to play if they decide it’s worth it, and I doubt this study will convince many players to quit.

I hope the NFL will cooperate with more long-term studies. We also need to do a study on college and high school players to determine if they are suffering hidden injuries.

Important work.

The NFL is wide open on this subject, to their credit. It has resulted in rule changes for them such as increased fines and on-field penalties for helmet-to-helmet hits, just as an example.

Also in the last few years the NFL has been working with suppliers to come up with much better helmets and pads - so that hopefully these problems can be lessened in the future.

Nothing will change the fact that it is a contact sport - nor should it. But players should be protected as much as technology and the rules will allow.

One of Mike Webster’s team-mates is an acquaintance of mine. Physically the man is a wreck. Bad knees, back pain, shoulder pain, etc. I would add dementia due to his ranting/raving racial speech, however people who knew him during his playing days tell me that he has always been that way.

Really? Who?

They certainly are nowadays, but back in the day…not so much. The NFL needs to take better care of its older vets. There’s enough money in the coffers to help with debilitating injuries.

Barry Sanders decided to retire when he went to see Earl Campbell. But Campbell prided himself of directly taking on the defensive players. He paid a terrible price for that macho attitude . Barry rarely took a hit straight on. There are knee and hip transplants in NFL players futures. They are 19 x more likely to suffer dementia.
I saw Nick Bunoconti talking about his son who became paralyzed playing high school football. He still said he would do it all over the same way. Norm Otto who played 20 years has had hip and knee transplants. He is wealthy and said he would do it again too. But he is badly crippled.It is a collision sport.

Mike Webster is just one example of a Steelers alumnus having these types of problems. Similar tragedy has befallen Justin Strzelczyk. Greg Lloyd has had numerous legal problems including being charged with putting a gun in his sons mouth although that case was later dismissed. I’m sure every team has a litany of stories like this from ex-players they can point to. I’m glad to hear the NFL is contributing to research to help design new helmets and other equipment.

There’s a lot of rampant speculation that the premature deaths of many of the Steelers of the 1970’s era is directly tied to steroid abuse, as well as a bunch of sour grapes trying to attach asterisks to their Super Bowl wins from that period. I’m ont one of those people that think so, but in that Seattle game I swear the refs were wearing yellow and black stripes…

I’m not in denial about the presence of steroids back then, but I hardly think it was the cause of all of these deaths. For one thing, many players on other teams that took steroids haven’t seen this kind of clustering, and many of the Steeler deaths either weren’t definitively caused by steroids or definitively weren’t caused by them.

Steve Courson was killed by a tree he was cutting down. David Little dropped a barbell on his neck. Terry Long committed suicide by drinking antifreeze. The guys who had heart attacks were by and large the linemen - and they were big men who generally had weight issues after their playing years. Some also had issues with substance abuse and even homelessness.

For the most part, I think this was just a weird string of chance that doesn’t demonstrate any statistical significance.

Soooooo…you agree that the Seattle/Steelers Superbowl***** was a referee/Tonya Harding whackjob (with a little Rooney money greasing the skids)?


Years ago the NFL trumpeted their great retirement programs. The problem was that it kicked in at 65. Many did not make it and most not much longer. Their cost was not very high at all.
Steroids help cause damage because players are bigger, faster and meaner. The collisions are that much worse. HGH is a factor for the same reason.
Helmet studies have been done for decades. The NFL refused to be part of it because it would be an admission that the sport causes damage to players. They want to pretend it is safer than it is.

I don’t think that was the case - as always with football officiating, simpler explanations can be offered.

Perhaps we should look at dementia here.

This surprises me not in the least. I suspect that we are going to start hearing about more and more early deaths a la what has been happening to former WWF stars for years now. That doesn’t even get into all the guys like Ted Johnson or the aforementioned Earl Campbell. John Mackey is poster boy for football dementia and subsequent injuries. He is a wreck . Like Campbell he did not avoid collisions. It caught up with him.

If I can find the still shots from that game, you can clearly see one of the refs has a check sticking out of his back pocket that’s signed “D Rooney”…


I agree with you Doors, in that it’s not like it’s a secret that football’s a contact sport in which you can get hurt. I’m certain the players go into it with their eyes wide open.

I also think that the NFL should do all it can to support its retired players, continue researching retired player’s aliments and the effects of such hard collisions on them, and continue to make the sport as safe as possible. If nothing else, perhaps such research will help out younger players and maybe give insights into the development and pathways that dementia and alzheimers takes, even in the general population.

I do find it a curious attitude that people have no sympathy because the players were compensated. It’s not like today where you have millions of dollars per year in contracts - NFL players before recent times were not rich people. Most of them worked regular jobs in the offseason.

I don’t think the NFL owes anything to them in a legal sense - they were willing participants - but the NFL has benefitted greatly from the league that those players built and popularized. It would be good morally and in terms of PR to take some of the vast riches they’ve gained and use them to help the old timers.