Not so super: NFL players lose cognitive function in their senior years

This Sunday, Superbowl XLV will feature the Packers v the Stealers in our favorite American tradition. While I may personally be more excited about the special episode of Glee that will follow the game, I know I will keep an eye out for any major head injuries by both team’s players. Why? Because these star athletes have an exponentially increased risk of developing cognitive problems as they age, as a result of multiple head injuries during their career. Sadly, the bright young stars of today’s football may be just as legendary as former greats like Earl Campbell, Ted Johnson, or Ralph Wenzel. Also like them, they may face the same health related problems that they do. -SP

Ralph Wenzel was a lineman for the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1966 to 1970 and for the San Diego Chargers in 1972 and 1973. Like many other former NFL players, today he suffers from Alzheimer's-type dementia, forcing him to live in an assisted living facility. His neurologist attributes his condition to the concussions and other brain trauma he experienced as a player. Photo and text from http://www.ralphwenzeltrust.org
NFL’s dirty little secret: Players suffer
By Jeff Pearlman, SI.com.

(CNN) — The business leaders of the National Football League used to have a secret.

It was a deep, dark secret, one they kept written on a microscopic piece of gold-plated paper, locked behind a door, behind a vault, behind a 20-foot-long man-eating anaconda in the basement of its New York offices.

The majority of the world’s secrets are easily uncovered. This one, however, stood as a modern-day equivalent of the inner workings of the Bavarian Illuminati. Nobody was ever supposed to suspect. It was passed down from generation to generation; only the most trusted and knowledgeable of NFL officials were ever genuinely aware of the truth.

Now, however, in Year of Our Lord 2011, the secret has somehow escaped professional football’s clutches, only to land in the midst of mainstream society.

The world is doomed! The empire is conquered!

Playing football is (gasp!) bad for you.

Yes, it is true. Playing football is bad for you. Bad for the neck and shoulders, bad for the arms and legs, really bad for the brain. See how NFL players look like muscular human-stallion hybrids, what with their fire hydrant forearms and refrigerator-sized calves and 4.3-40 times? Check back in a decade, when a shockingly large number will have trouble limping from the couch to the refrigerator without stumbling to the ground in agony. In the worst cases, some will struggle to remember their own names.

The stories of past NFL players-turned-walking (or not walking) wounded are heartbreaking and endless. The great Earl Campbell can barely stand up. Neither can the great Wilber Marshall. Or the great Dave Pear. Or the great Wally Chambers. John Mackey, the legendary Colts tight end, suffers from frontotemporal dementia and lives in full-time assisted living. Ralph Wenzel, an NFL guard from 1966-73, also suffers from dementia and can no longer dress, bathe or feed himself. Ted Johnson, a former Patriots linebacker and only 38 years old, shows early signs of Alzheimer’s disease.

Yet even though we are all now relatively well-versed in the risks that come with America’s most cherished sport, the NFL — the ultimate corporate monolith — doesn’t want you to think about it. Or worry about it. Or, ahem, be aware of it. Just kick back and drink your Budweiser.

As reported in The New York Times, the league recently demanded that Toyota significantly alter a 30-second advertisement that cites the danger of football (Pathetically, Toyota gave in). The spot, which most sports fans have seen by now, focuses on the automobile company having contributed crash research to those scientists looking into football concussions. In the ad, a mother worries “about my son playing football.”

Brian McCarthy, an NFL talking head, told the Times that “we felt it was unfair to single out a particular sport. Concussions aren’t just a football issue.”

Read more at CNN.com.

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