Tag Archives: concussions

Is CTE Settled Science? Symptoms Similar to Those Found with Steroid Use

An on-going topic of debate in football is the impact the sport has on brain function. This is being discussed at all levels of football starting with youth leagues and going all the way up to the NFL. Concussions and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) are serious issues that deserve not only the public’s attention but also the undivided attention of the NFL. But what if I told you that the symptoms associated with CTE were also associated with the use of steroids?

CTE, as defined by the Boston University CTE Center, is a “progressive degenerative disease of the brain found in athletes (and others) with a history of repetitive brain trauma, including symptomatic concussions as well as asymptomatic subconcussive hits to the head.” Everyone from ESPN to PBS has produced featured stories on not only how CTE has affected football players but also on how the NFL has allegedly covered up the findings in order to benefit its business model. The symptoms of CTE, based on the Boston University CTE Center, include “memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, impulse control problems, aggression, depression, and, eventually, progressive dementia.”

CTE has been blamed for the tragic events that led to the tragic stories of Kansas City Chief Jovan Belcher, New York Giant Tyler Sash, Atlanta Falcon Ray Easterling and San Diego Charger Junior Seau to name just a few. As a result of events such as these, many ex-NFL players have donated their brains to science and/or have retired from the NFL earlier than expected.

As is the case with any series of tragic events, society looks to cast blame on someone, or an entity, that is driven by greed. In the case of CTE, that entity is the NFL and commissioner Roger Goodell. The charge against Goodell in the court of public opinion is that he, like his predecessors, chose to hide the impact of CTE from football players in order to maximize the profits of the NFL. Goodell found himself the subject of additional public outrage when he went on the record saying that he would encourage his son to play football.

Even with the substantiated proof of CTE, it should not be considered settled science that CTE is the primary factor involved in the tragedies of these current and former NFL players. Like Jason Whitlock and Danny Kanell, I too have my doubts about just how conclusive the science is that links CTE with these football tragedies.

In his J. School blog, Whitlock approached an angle that I have long thought about in regards to the symptoms of CTE and brain function. Whitlock discusses the angle the media took with the steroid issue in baseball, but what if there was more to the use of steroids in football than the media reported and we knew?

There is a long list of side effects that are associated with the use of steroids. These side effects include aggressive behaviors and psychiatric disorders. Aggressive behaviors and psychiatric disorders are also two of the more highly publicized side effects of CTE. I am not saying that CTE is not a real issue for football players and I am also not saying that it isn’t a serious issue for football players. But what if Goodell and the NFL are correct when they argue that CTE is not to blame for tragedies such as Jovan Belcher and Junior Seau?

Former NFL player Eddie George believes that steroids do play a role in the off the field issues of some of the NFL players.

Considering the fact that CTE and steroid use share some of the same side effects, why then is the impact of CTE considered settled science in the NFL and why then is the NFL, under Goodell’s leadership, being presented as being nefarious in their attitude towards CTE? My belief is that this is more outrage from the social justice warrior (SJW) crowd.

Blaming CTE for the current and post-retirement issues that afflict football players is the easy way out. The SJW crowd loves a good villain more than they love personal responsibility. CTE provides the villain and it’s a villain that Hollywood could also rally around. And considering that the topic of CTE has been snatched by the SJW crowd, it also means that it is an argument that is ultimately debated on social media rather than in the science lab. Like facts, science doesn’t care about your feelings. Social media does care about your feelings and topics become settled science based in large part to who can scream the loudest.

When discussing CTE in the NFL, many seem to remove the role of personal responsibility from the argument. Some players seize their freedom of choice and choose to retire early based on what is known about CTE. I applaud these players and believe more players should acknowledge that the choice does exist. Nobody forces these adults to play football.

Now, if steroids do play a role in the tragic events attributed to CTE then I believe that personal choice plays an even greater factor in this debate. But if the tragic events that occurred with Jovan Belcher and Junior Seau had anything at all to do with steroids, well, that doesn’t make for good SJW outrage because there is nobody like Goodell to present in an evil way. It’s all about the individual player at that point.

If you want a more concrete example of what i’m presenting, all you need to do is look at the world of professional wrestling. Paul Farhi makes an interesting statement in that Washington Post article:

Professional wrestlers of (Ultimate) Warrior’s generation (he was 54) have experienced a mortality rate that would be considered a crisis and a scandal if it happened in some other context — say, to football players, racecar drivers or boxers.

Farhi is correct in his assertion that if there were this many deaths of football players under the age of 50 that the situation would be considered a crisis and a scandal. Farhi even uses Chris Benoit as an example of a tragedy that would not be as accepted if it had involved an NFL player.

Before taking his own life, Chris Benoit killed his wife and their 7-year-old son, yet unlike the similar chain of events that involved Jovan Belcher, CTE was not blamed for Benoit’s killing spree. What was suggested as the influencing factor behind the deaths were steroids.

Investigators found anabolic steroids in the house and want to know whether the muscle man nicknamed “The Canadian Crippler” was unhinged by the bodybuilding drugs, which can cause paranoia, depression and explosive outbursts known as “roid rage.”

We as a society owe it to everyone to slow down and to take a responsible, level-headed examination of all of the facts and possible reasons behind the growing list of tragedies involving football players. Maybe CTE is the driving factor behind this growing issue and maybe the NFL and Goodell are ignoring it in the name of profit. But just maybe the science isn’t settled and just maybe the SJWs should give the scientific community time to engage in responsible science.

Remember, like facts, responsible science doesn’t care about your feelings.

E-mail Seth at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @SethMerenbloom.

 

*Featured image courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org

What is wrong with Sidney Crosby?

Three goals, eight assists for eleven points in 20 games. If those numbers project over the balance of the NHL’s 82 game regular season, the player in question would end up with 12 goals, 32 assists and 44 points. Reasonable numbers for a third line centre, but hardly the kind of numbers you would expect from one of the games greats. Since entering the league as the first overall draft pick in 2005, Sidney Crosby has been widely accepted as the game’s number one player. On top of his poor offensive numbers so far this season, Crosby has a plus/minus rating of -9, which projects to a horrible -36 over an entire season. 1A player is awarded a “plus” each time he is on the ice when his Club scores an even-strength or shorthanded goal. He receives a “minus” if he is on the ice for an even-strength or shorthanded goal scored by the opposing Club. The difference in these numbers is considered the player’s “plusminus” statistic

So how do we attribute the poor start to Crosby’s eleventh NHL season? Perhaps there is an undisclosed injury. Perhaps it is an overall poor performance by the team. Perhaps it is bad coaching in terms of line combinations. Let’s look at those supposedly obvious factors first.

By definition, an undisclosed injury is not made public so if Crosby is hurt, we may never know. However his average ice time per game over the first 25% of the season is 20:38, good for 6th in the entire league, so I think we can safely say that he is not injured. While the Penguins as a team are not setting the league on fire, based on their star studded roster one would expect them to be better than 12-8 after 20 games. The team is playing reasonably well defensively with a 2.26 goals against average, shots for and against are identical (30.5 shots per game for the Penguins and 30.8 shots for the opposition), their special teams are playing to the league average (the Penguins Power Play is operating at 84.5% efficiency and the Penalty Killing unit is operating at 15.1%)2If these two numbers add up to 100% then special teams are effective. They are plus 10 as a team, which is a little below average for a team that expects to contend. Line combinations are juggled game to game and often within the game itself as game situations dictate, but essentially Crosby has been playing with quality hockey players and not third or fourth line journeymen.

So it would appear that there is at least one other factor that is causing the decline in Crosby’s scoring numbers. After 20 games his eleven points ranks him tied for 136th in NHL scoring. Players of Crosby’s calibre are few and far between, so the comparisons are few which makes the exercise a bit easier.

Crosby entered the league as an 18 year old at the start of the 2005-06 season. Two other superstar players who also entered professional hockey at similar ages were Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux, perhaps the two players closest to Crosby in terms of talent and their success as world class players. Crosby is entering his 11th NHL season so I compared Gretzky’s performance for the first ten years of his career and Lemieux’ performance for the first ten years of his career versus Crosby’s output through the end of his tenth season.

There are some interesting comparisons in the chart below that compares the three players’ first ten years. Both Gretzky and Lemieux scored more points in their first ten years than they did in the balance of their careers. In both cases, their point per game production was more than Crosby’s, but we need to take into account that Gretzky played his first ten years in the era where NHL scoring was at its peak and Crosby played most of his first ten years in a league where scoring is declining.  Lemiuex’ first ten years were in an era somewhere in between.

Player Period Games Goals Assists Points PPG % of career points
Wayne Gretzky Years 1 – 10 776 629 1,150 1,779 2.29 59.96%
Wayne Gretzky Year 11 onwards 791 311 877 1,188 1.50 40.04%
Career Gretzky 1,567 940 2,027 2,967 1.89 100.00%
Mario Lemieux Years 1 – 10 599 494 717 1,211 2.02 70.28%
Mario Lemieux Year 11 onwards 316 196 316 512 1.62 29.72%
Career Lemieux 915 690 1,033 1,723 1.88 100.00%
Sidney Crosby Years 1 – 10 627 302 551 853 1.36 98.73%
Sidney Crosby Year 11 onwards 20 3 8 11 0.55 1.27%
To date Crosby 647 305 559 864 1.34 100.00%

 

So based on the above comparisons it is reasonable to expect that Crosby’s numbers will start to fall off. Using those comparisons, we can estimate that over the balance of his career, Crosby’s will play another 700 games, scoring 200 goals, 370 assists for 570 points.3All figures approximate Such a pace would give him 502 goals and 1,423 points for and 18 year career. Reasonable in the circumstances.

But perhaps a more interesting and realistic comparison of Crosby’s career is to that of Eric Lindros. While he was a good player, Lindros was not as skilled offensively as Crosby, but played the game with more of an edge than Crosby does. The common denominators are age and injuries, specifically concussions. It’s hard to compare the two players’ concussion history because head injuries are treated more more seriously today than they were 15 years ago when Lindros was still playing. Crosby has had two concussions and many believe that the second was really an extension of the first (January 1, 2011) that wasn’t dealt with as diligently as it should have been. By comparison Lindros had six known concussion injuries, the first of which was on March 7, 1998 and he missed 18 games as a result.  But perhaps the real decline in Lindros’ career came in the five month period between December 27, 1999 and May 26, 2000 when he suffered concussions two through six. The chart below shows the effect of Lindros’ offensive production after his first concussion and the key number to look at is the points per game (PPG) column. While we can see that so far Crosby’s numbers have not deteriorated significantly since his first concussion, there is a slight drop off and perhaps this season’s numbers are a sign of things to come.

Player Period Games G A PTS PPG % of career points
Eric Lindros Pre 1st Concussion 360 223 284 507 1.41 58.61%
Eric Lindros Post 1st Concussion 400 149 209 358 0.90 41.39%
Total Lindros 760 372 493 865 1.14 100.00%
Sidney Crosby Pre 1st Concussion 412 215 357 572 1.39 66.20%
Sidney Crosby Post 1st Concussion 215 87 194 281 1.31 32.52%
Sidney Crosby This season 20 3 8 11 0.55 1.27%
Total Crosby 647 305 559 864 1.34 100.00%

 

The balance of this season will be a key period in determining what success Crosby has over the balance of his career.  It would seem that he is battling two major influences on his offensive production; age and post concussion. If he continues to score at the rate we have seen over the first quarter of this season, we will have already seen his best years. Age wise, he is clearly on “the back nine” of his career and his numbers should go down as a result of that, but if we believe that concussion injuries are a major part of a player’s decline in offensive production, we are likely going to see a player who is a mere shadow of his former self.

The NHL and other sports leagues are starting to take head injuries very seriously. Not only is that a good thing and the right thing to do, we can see evidence of the effect a head injury influences a player’s career. For Crosby’s sake I hope he picks up his play and removes any doubt that he is “damaged goods”, but it may be April 2016 before we really know for sure.

 

 

 

 

 

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1. A player is awarded a “plus” each time he is on the ice when his Club scores an even-strength or shorthanded goal. He receives a “minus” if he is on the ice for an even-strength or shorthanded goal scored by the opposing Club. The difference in these numbers is considered the player’s “plusminus” statistic
2. If these two numbers add up to 100% then special teams are effective
3. All figures approximate

NHL Player Safety Evaluation

There is a life after sports for professional athletes. Anybody who has played any kind of physical sport growing up knows that athletics can take a toll on your body. Chronic physical wear and tear, broken bones/cartilage, muscle sprains and tears are only a small number of things that can potentially happen playing physical sports. The potential of injury is exponential (hours training and playing and progressively higher levels of competition) when becoming a professional athlete. Injuries and man-game’s lost are a test for professional sports teams, forcing organizations to flex coaching and management strategies and exercise the ability to utilize team-depth. But what about the long term effects to a player’s health after a sports career? What have professional leagues done to ensure the safety of these individuals so prone to injury? There has been progress in other professional sports league, such as the NFL introducing player safety policies that saw a decrease in concussions this last season. However, I think no league stands out quite like the NHL in their attention to detail involving on-ice hits and player safety regulations.

The NHL Department of Player Safety was established in 2011. Originally, it was developed to take all-possible measures to ensure the safety of its players and preserve the nature of the game. A nature rooted with combat, physicality, and speed. There is a fine line when disputing a legal hockey happening at a top speed versus a late check as someone was admiring his pass a little too much. Especially before research was being done and athletes were taking notice to their health and the long-term effects. Late checks, cross-checks, and slew-footing would happen more frequently, but for some reason it went unnoticed due to what (we as) fans thought typical hockey should look like. Think of players like, Tie Domi, who was notorious for playing with a bit of an edge and a little dirty. Or Chris Simon, dude stomped on somebody. While both players had received supplementary discipline on numerous accounts, most cases were merely brushed aside by fans and chalked up to the notion that hockey is physical.

Now, the NHL Department of Player Safety educates hockey fans on what is legal and illegal. Giving video reasoning, showing the highlight, outlining information about what was wrong or okay with the incident under review, breaking down the play frame-by-frame, and concluding a statement based on evidence the department has before them. With former players and NHL executive personnel such as Brian Burke and Chris Pronger, it acts as a trial of peers. Both, Pronger and Burke, and other appointed safety officials know the game and have studied the game with a tuition most fans do not have.

The NHL Department of Player Safety knows that the game is physical and knows that injuries can happen. To break it down further, the Department of Player Safety makes distinctions as to why hits are illegal or legal, it discusses accidental collisions and checking from behind. Also taking into account whether a player is a repeat offender such as Matt Cooke and Daniel Carcillo, or not. With the technological advances in broadcasting and video replay, every move of every NHL player is being watched and that gives the NHL Department of Player Safety a better chance to truly dissect each individual occurrence.

The NHL has done a great job developing awareness to player safety for two reasons: to educate players and fans alike and to save their own asses. It is no secret that lawsuits are starting to surface from professional athletes about how their lives post-sports have been diminished because they were not aware of the damage that can be done and the league is responsible. However, that sounds like suing McDonald’s for being diagnosed obese after consuming red meat, fried starches, and hydrogenated sugar water everyday. These players take that risk when pursuing professional sports as a career and are not only paid better than most, but have top-notch medical technology at their disposal. I do not feel badly for players and am entertained by the physical side of hockey. I can appreciate a clean, open-ice hit or a fight just as much as I can appreciate a nice offensive zone play finished with a nice goal scored top shelf. However, I/we as fans can appreciate a player’s life and legacy more than any of that and the NHL has done a better job in doing so with the Department of Player Safety.

Three Things I Know About the NFL After Week 11

If you were to ask me how my picks went this week, I’d just shrug. Kind of like Atlas, but without any weird political undertones. Why? Because being .500 is shrug-worthy. I’m also .500 for the season as a whole. I’d be really angry about that if it weren’t for those awful two weeks I had earlier in the season. (AWFUL. So awful that I just started another beer)

Player Safety is Confusing

I’m not going to spend my time here rehashing horse-collar tackles, complaining about late hits, or even calling the current incarnation of the NFL a little girl’s game that is so gentle now pads may not even be needed.

No, I’m going to wonder why something so seemingly common sense, so easy to figure out, is still something that the NFL doesn’t mandate; the Kevlar lined football helmets.

Head hunting (and head leading) Steelers linebacker James Harrison wears a Kevlar helmet. So does Miami Dolphins running back Daniel Thomas. Sunday, Steelers safety Ryan Clark donned the Kevlar helmet against the Ravens and it made him feel so comfortable that he spent the game leading with his head. Again.

So here’s my question about the Kevlar headgear; if it’s so fantastic, why doesn’t the NFL mandate the new helmets for everyone? If Roger Goodell is so concerned with player safety, shouldn’t the NFL mandate the use of Kevlar to “reduce the rick of concussive and sub-concussive blows” to protect the players? There has to be a good reason, right?

There isn’t one. I promise. What would keep the NFL from spending a few extra bones per helmet if it would mean potentially saving players from long-term, debilitating injuries? Oh. I bet I know.

It doesn’t work.

As athletic trainer and Concussion Blog author Dustin Fink wrote on Wednesday: “We need to remember that concussions are mainly a result of acceleration, deceleration, rotational, and angular forces. Linear forces, where CRT is proven to attenuate, is low on the list of concussion culprits. There is no way this product can attenuate the most troublesome forces that create concussions.” ~ From Slate.com’s NFL 2012

You heard right. Way to go NFL. You’ve made up a product that you can slap on players that think they need help to make them feel invincible so they can go out and never think to take any extra precautions. You guys are the best.

The NFC is Better Than the AFC

But not for the reason that you think.

I think the tops of the divisions could beat each other on any given Sunday. The Patriots, Ravens, Texans and Broncos could all beat the Giants, Bears, Packers, Falcons or 49ers right around half the time. But the bottoms of the divisions… ugh.

The AFC bottom feeders are so bad that the world’s most terrible argument is rearing its ugly head; that a college team could ever beat an NFL team. First, NO. Second, the Jaguars and Chiefs certainly aren’t helping the NFL’s cause with their combined 2-18 record. And the Browns can’t beat their way out of a paper bag. And the Raiders. And Titans. Good God, the Jets and Dolphins have managed four wins while being completely dysfunctional.

The NFC’s basement? I’d take the Lions, Eagles, Redskins, Cardinals or Rams over any of the .500 or below AFC teams. I’d give points, tease them and take the over in every match up. The two conferences could make some good games among their division leaders, but it’s the middle and bottom of the conferences that really make the NFC head and shoulders better than the AFC.

Picking Upset Super Bowl Teams is More Fun Than Really Picking Super Bowl Teams

I know full well that I’m too heavy for the limb that I’m climbing out on right now, but I have my Super Bowl teams picked. The Broncos are going to beat the Falcons. You heard it here first, and probably only. The injury to Willis McGahee won’t even deter me from picking Peyton Freaking Manning to troll the NFL and bag another Super Bowl MVP award.

What are your upset Super Bowl teams? (Comments, guys, comments. ↓)



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