Irv Muchnick: Sports Concussion Crisis a Culture-Wide Problem

Aug 8, 2011

EDITOR’S NOTE: Author Irv Muchnick has been covering the big picture on concussions in sports and its broader effects on society in general. In following up with our most recent posts and debates with insiders from the NFLPA on their role in Disability Benefits – or lack thereof – we’re presenting three of Irv’s current posts.
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Posted with the express consent of Irv Muchnick:
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Sports Concussion Crisis a Culture-Wide Problem – Maybe a Post-Ideological One, Too

August 8‚ 2011
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by Irvin Muchnick
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Writing in The Nation’s special August 15-22 sports issue, currently on newsstands, recently retired Denver Broncos wide receiver turned social critic Nate Jackson reflects on the football concussion crisis. Jackson is short on specifics and long on the banal (“But at what price comes the glory?”). Jackson also makes regrettable separation from the essential theme: traumatic brain injuries are not the same as blown-out knees; the National Football League’s commerce-first values inculcate amateur sports, as well; and the depth and breadth of the resulting societal fallout far exceed the public’s current perception.
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Like most painful attempts by intellectuals to be hip, Jackson and his fellow sloganeers for solidarity fail to account for the limitations of labor-model ideology in a popular culture dangling as far off the bread-and-circuses deep end as America’s in 2011. Through their solutions, obscene revenues would be shifted from the “bosses” to the “people,” and football would be “civilized” by rule-tweaking. But the nearly $10-billion-a-year NFL would not be held accountable for a system imposing documentable mental-health deficits on our public schools, work force, and prisons.
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A similar inability to forge a vision more imaginative than the struggle between unions and owners leads to the overplaying of the class-warfare card throughout The Nation’s “Views from Left Field.”
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After a strong introductory essay by Robert Lipsyte, we are served up a lot of the usual suspects saying a lot of the usual things. Noam Chomsky reminds us of the evilness of evil. In a series of short sidebars, an almost parodic litany of credentialed lefties asserts their sports-worship bona fides (Victor Navasky on Babe Ruth, Ralph Nader on Lou Gehrig, David Remnick on Muhammad Ali).
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In an article co-authored with long-time activist and National Football League Players Association official David Meggyesy, guest editor Dave Zirin patiently explains how the pro football talent union “won” the recent lockout – news to the rest of us. I don’t advise hotel custodians or stadium beer vendors to design their own tactics around the delusion that Tom Brady and the Manning brothers might deign to honor anything so proletariat as a picket line.
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Left unreported by The Nation are the lawsuits and counter-organizing by retired players who feel abandoned by the NFLPA’s “cash up front” philosophy; this colluded with the profiteering league’s underfunding of pension and disability plans, which in turn failed to forge meaningful solidarity with a generation of neurologically and orthopedically damaged brethren. On this raging controversy, Meggyesy has taken to Internet forums, including my blog and that of Dave Pear, the ex-Oakland Raider who heads a group of dissident retirees.
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John Hogan, a disability attorney representing many players – along with some others in Pear’s Independent Football Veterans, who include famous names – are debating federal labor law rings around both Meggyesy and Sam McCullum, the former wideout who recently was named as an NFLPA replacement for Dave Duerson on the joint league-union disability board. Duerson, of course, committed suicide in February. Duerson’s hyper-macho passivity on colleagues’ cases of brain trauma in the years leading up to his own postmortem finding of chronic traumatic encephalopathy remains high on the list of “tasteful” sports journalism’s muted scandals. The Nation playbook provides no audibles for that one, either.
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NFLPA apologists really ought to quit while they’re behind. Concussions are a culture-wide problem, and a guild of elite mass entertainers is neither motivated nor equipped to lead us out of it.
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EXCLUSIVE: 1975 ‘Lancet’ Article Yet Another Smoking Gun in Football Concussion Saga

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Published August 8th, 2011
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The new lawsuit by scores of retired players alleging a cover-up by the National Football League of medical research on the magnitude of the concussion problem includes a chronology familiar to students of this issue. It goes like this:
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Something very much like what would become known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy was discovered in boxers as far back as the 1920s.
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Dr. Bennet Omalu named and defined CTE in a cohort of deceased football players beginning in 2002.
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NFL researchers denied and manipulated public understanding of multiple-concussion syndrome from the time of the formation of a panel of league experts in 1994, and through articles in the last decade, chiefly in the journal Neurosurgery. These were authored by doctors with blatant conflicts of interest, and edited with shockingly lax academic standards.
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Now comes a new piece of the puzzle: discovery of a 1975 article in the journal The Lancet, entitled “Cumulative Effect of Concussion.” Historically, The Lancet is rivaled only by the Journal of the American Medical Association as the most widely quoted source in all of clinical literature. It does not seem credible that such findings could have escaped the close attention of the NFL’s Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Committee.
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The article in the 22 November 1975 issue of The Lancet was co-authored by Drs. Dorothy Gronwall and Philip Wrightson of the neurosurgery department at Auckland Hospital in New Zealand. From a study of 20 young adults following second concussions, the doctors concluded:
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“The effects of concussion seem to be cumulative, and this has important implications for sports where concussion injury is common.”
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In a separate article published a year earlier in The Lancet, Gronwall and Wrightson had further stated:
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“[Time taken to recover from an uncomplicated concussion] is usually less than thirty-five days. Patients with post-concussion symptoms, who complain of inability to carry out normal work, poor concentration, fatigue, irritability, and headache, show a reduction of information-processing rate which is inappropriate to the time elapsed since injury and which persists beyond the usual period of thirty-five days.”
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I was tipped to the Gronwall-Wrightson research by Don Brady, a psychologist in upstate New York who has done his own important but little-noticed research on concussion history. His website is HERE.
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Dave Duerson’s Replacement on NFL Disability Board: New Deal Isn’t Finalized, So Hold Your Fire

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Published August 5th, 2011
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A war of words has erupted on the comments board under an item at the blog of Dave Pear, a leading dissident National Football League retired player. See “Dave Duerson’s Replacement” – Click HERE.
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The replacement is Sam McCullum, former Seattle Seahawks wide receiver. McCullum said earlier this week that, “time permitting,” he would announce details by Friday (today) of “a number of open issues” relating to pensions and disability benefits under the collective bargaining agreement between the NFL and the NFL Players Association.
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On Wednesday, McCullum posted comments under the Pear post, which was critical of the union and himself. McCullum said in part, “We have make [sic] progress because of efforts by a lot of folks, but the exact details are still being worked out as negotiations are still ongoing. Please wait until the final documents are drafted before you write it off as a failure.”
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Ex-NFLPA official Dave Meggyesy (who also has commented on my blog) also dismissed the Pear group’s “misinformation and conspiracy thinking.”
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And prominent players’ disability attorney John Hogan and others proceeded to rebut Meggyesy and McCullum.
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The internecine battles among players and ex-players are their own. But the existence of this rift, and the facts behind it, are revealing. If the NFLPA could not forge fundamental consensus with its core constituency, then we in the public have additional reason to question whether the league’s partner in NFL Player Care has been an honest broker of information about brain injuries for amateur athletes, as well.
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Speaking of the late Dave Duerson himself, I understand that there is finally a hard-hitting independent story about his role, by a news outlet other than Concussion Inc., being readied for publication shortly.
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Irvin Muchnick is author of CHRIS & NANCY: The True Story of the Benoit Murder-Suicide and Pro Wrestling’s Cocktail of Death (2009) and WRESTLING BABYLON: Piledriving Tales of Drugs, Sex, Death, and Scandal (2007). He is a widely published magazine journalist and has appeared on forums as diverse as Fox News’ “O’Reilly Factor,” National Public Radio’s “Fresh Air with Terry Gross,” and ESPN’s “Up Close.” Muchnick is lead respondent in the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case for freelance writers’ rights, Reed Elsevier v. Muchnick.
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BeyondChron contributor Irvin Muchnick has launched his new website and blog “Concussion Inc.”. You can also find Irv on Twitter at http://twitter.com/irvmuch.
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One Response so far | Have Your Say!

  1. Dave Pear
    August 8th, 2011 at 1:31 pm #

    Dave Pear

    Firm and determined retired players will be in this battle for justice as we continue to expose the double-dealing deeds of our counterfeit union (non-union) and its corrupt leadership.

    Justice for retired players (especially pre-1993) NOW!

    Regards,
    Dave & Heidi Pear