Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


Back to Brain Damage

• December 05, 2012 • 4:03 PM

No, Kansas City Chiefs player Javon Belcher’s murder-suicide probably didn’t have anything to do with traumatic brain injury. But the league still has a problem on its hands.

As we near the end of the NFL regular season, we’re right back where we started: traumatic brain injuries.

In September, as we reported, the league donated $30 million to the National Institutes of Health to further research into “chronic traumatic encephalopathy,” a neurodegenerative disease common among professional footballers. CTE, according to Boston University’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, is marked by “irritability, impulsivity, aggression, depression, short-term memory loss and heightened suicidality,” and shows up in the decades after athletes—and in some cases combat veterans—are exposed to repetitive concussions.

This week the center is out with a new report, examining 68 CTE victims who left their brains to research after death. Among the subjects were three dozen former NFL players—including Hall of Famers John Mackey and Ollie Matson—a handful of pro hockey players, veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Eric Pelly, a Pittsburgh high school rugby player who took a knee to the temple in a match, spent three days in the hospital, and later collapsed at his family’s dining room table. More than a quarter of the victims had committed suicide; others were felled by overdose.

Of the 35 pro football players’ brains examined for CTE, just one showed no signs of the disease. And a third of all victims showed signs of other pathologies, including Alzheimer’s and motor neuron disease.

Fans have been wondering this week, both privately and aloud, if traumatic brain damage had a role in Kansas City Chiefs’ Javon Belcher’s recent suicide. The 25-year-old linebacker killed his girlfriend in a domestic dispute early Saturday morning, drove to Arrowhead Stadium, and, standing before his coach and general manager, turned the gun on himself. Belcher is the fourth current or former NFL player to commit suicide this year, and a friend told Deadspin that he had a habit of drinking heavily, using painkillers, and “was dazed and was suffering from short-term memory loss” after taking hard hits in a recent game.

But then, Belcher was young, without a long history of concussions, according to the Chiefs’ front office. It’s impossible to tie his suicide to brain injury—now or, possibly, ever.

Even so, the growing reams of medical evidence, plus a class-action lawsuit brought against the NFL by more than 3,000 retired players, mean that the league’s headache won’t be going away anytime soon.

Kevin Charles Redmon
Kevin Charles Redmon is a journalist and critic. He lives in Washington, D.C.

More From Kevin Charles Redmon

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

October 21 • 4:00 AM

She’s Cheating on Him, You Can Tell Just by Watching Them

New research suggests telltale signs of infidelity emerge even in a three- to five-minute video.


October 21 • 2:00 AM

Cheating Demographic Doom: Pittsburgh Exceptionalism and Japan’s Surprising Economic Resilience

Don’t judge a metro or a nation-state by its population numbers.


October 20 • 4:00 PM

The Bird Hat Craze That Sparked a Preservation Movement

How a fashion statement at the turn of the 19th century led to the creation of the first Audubon societies.


October 20 • 2:00 PM

The Risk of Getting Killed by the Police If You Are White, and If You Are Black

An analysis of killings by police shows outsize risk for young black males.


October 20 • 12:00 PM

Love and Hate in Israel and Palestine

Psychologists find that parties to a conflict think they’re motivated by love while their enemies are motivated by hate.


October 20 • 11:00 AM

My Dog Comes First: The Importance of Pets to Homeless Youth

Dogs and cats have both advantages and disadvantages for street-involved youth.


October 20 • 10:00 AM

Homophobia Is Not a Thing of the Past

Despite growing support for LGBT rights and recent decisions from the Supreme Court regarding the legality of same-sex marriage, the battle for acceptance has not yet been decided.


October 20 • 8:00 AM

Big Boobs Matter Most

Medical mnemonics are often scandalous and sexist, but they help the student to both remember important facts and cope with challenging new experiences.


October 20 • 6:00 AM

When Disease Becomes Political: The Likely Electoral Fallout From Ebola

Will voters blame President Obama—and punish Democrats in the upcoming mid-term elections—for a climate of fear?


October 20 • 4:00 AM

Coming Soon: The Anatomy of Ignorance


October 17 • 4:00 PM

What All Military Families Need to Know About High-Cost Lenders

Lessons from over a year on the beat.


October 17 • 2:00 PM

The Majority of Languages Do Not Have Gendered Pronouns

A world without “he.” Or “she.”


October 17 • 11:01 AM

How to Water a Farm in Sandy Ground

Physicists investigate how to grow food more efficiently in fine-grained soil.


October 17 • 10:00 AM

Can Science Fiction Spur Science Innovation?

Without proper funding, the answer might not even matter.


October 17 • 8:00 AM

Seattle, the Incredible Shrinking City

Seattle is leading the way in the micro-housing movement as an affordable alternative to high-cost city living.


October 17 • 6:00 AM

‘Voodoo Death’ and How the Mind Harms the Body

Can an intense belief that you’re about to die actually kill you? Researchers are learning more about “voodoo death” and how it isn’t limited to superstitious, foreign cultures.


October 17 • 4:00 AM

That Arts Degree Is Paying Off

A survey of people who have earned degrees in the arts find they are doing relatively well, although their education didn’t provide much guidance on managing a career.


October 16 • 4:00 PM

How (Some) Economists Are Like Doomsday Cult Members

Cognitive dissonance and clinging to paradigms even in the face of accumulated anomalous facts.


October 16 • 2:00 PM

The Latest—and Most Mysterious—Player in the Nasty Battle Over Net Neutrality

As the FCC considers how to regulate Internet providers, the telecom industry’s stealth campaign for hearts and minds encompasses everything from art installations to LOLcats.


October 16 • 12:00 PM

How Many Ads Is Too Many Ads?

The conundrum of online video advertising.


October 16 • 11:00 AM

Unlocking Consciousness

A study of vegetative patients closes in on the nature of consciousness.


October 16 • 10:00 AM

The False Promises of Higher Education

Danielle Henderson spent six years and $60,000 on college and beyond. The effects of that education? Not as advertised.


October 16 • 8:00 AM

Faster Justice, Closer to Home: The Power of Community Courts

Community courts across the country are fighting judicial backlog and lowering re-arrest rates.


October 16 • 6:00 AM

Killing Your Husband to Save Yourself

Without proper legal instruments, women with abusive partners are often forced to make a difficult choice: kill or be killed.


October 16 • 4:00 AM

Personality Traits Linked to Specific Diseases

New research finds neurotic people are more likely to suffer a serious health problem.


Follow us


Love and Hate in Israel and Palestine

Psychologists find that parties to a conflict think they're motivated by love while their enemies are motivated by hate.

How to Water a Farm in Sandy Ground

Physicists investigate how to grow food more efficiently in fine-grained soil.

Unlocking Consciousness

A study of vegetative patients closes in on the nature of consciousness.

Advice for Emergency Alert Systems: Don’t Cry Wolf

A survey finds college students don't always take alerts seriously.

Brain’s Reward Center Does More Than Manage Rewards

Nucleus accumbens tracks many different connections in the world, a new rat study suggests.

The Big One

One company, Amazon, controls 67 percent of the e-book market in the United States—down from 90 percent five years ago. September/October 2014 new-big-one-5

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.