When I heard the news and read some of the early reports that Dave Duerson “had been found dead,” I could sort of read between the lines; this was no ordinary death. You hate to say it, but you think about something other than natural causes when someone dies suddenly. I have to admit it, but it was the first thought when I heard about Gaines Adams last offseason. Was it drugs? Suicide? Of course in Gaines’ case, it was a heart condition. Shame on me.
In the case of Duerson, it was in fact a suicide. It’s a really tragic end to a classy individual whose life was falling apart around him, including a pending personal bankruptcy. They say that suicide is the most selfish act a person can commit, but in Duerson’s “selfish” act, there was a selfless aspect to it. He shot himself in the chest so his brain could be examined for CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy).
Shortly before choosing to take his own life, Duerson texted family members to be sure that his brain be studied. I’m not going to try to put a positive spin on the suicide or the aftermath. This is a sobering reminder of life after football.
This is certain to make waves in the upcoming collective bargaining agreement, with player safety coming to the forefront of the current players’ consciousness. Sure, many of these guys make millions upon millions of dollars in their careers but is all of that money worth it if the life expectancy is cut short or the quality of life is reduced to a drool cup or personal bankruptcy? What about all of the players who don’t earn the big bucks but sustain similar repeated blows to the head? Here’s a little bit from George Attalah, one of the top officials of the NFLPA:
George Atallah, a union spokesman who knew Duerson well, said that active and retired players had become increasingly aware of, and occasionally quite concerned about, the prospect that they would develop C.T.E. or other issues regarding brain activity. He said some players had called the union’s office in Washington since Duerson’s death wanting to learn more about the condition.
“This thing has the whole union community pretty shaken up,” Atallah said in a telephone interview Saturday night. “The increased awareness around the long-term impact of head trauma on men that played football has been a constant subject of conversation among the players.”
This is a free country and everyone must make their own choices about their career and how they choose to put food on the table. No one is forcing these guys to play in the NFL and if half the players decided the risk of serious health problems later in life wasn’t worth the money, there would still be a line of people waiting to take their place.
I’m not advocating that they legislate the hitting out of football, because that would change the game that we all love and turn it into soccer with pads. What I am call for is that the NFL provide players with real data and information so they can make informed decisions.