By Doug Porter
Former San Diego Charger Junior Seau was suffering from chronic brain damage when he committed suicide, according to reports on ESPN/ABC news this morning. The deceased linebacker’s brain was examined by researchers with the National Institute of Health (NIH) who concluded he was afflicted with Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, a neurodegenerative disease that can lead to dementia, memory loss and depression.
Seau’s ex-wife told ESPN that the family was informed the disease resulted from “a lot of head-to-head collisions over the course of 20 years of playing in the NFL. And that it gradually, you know, developed the deterioration of his brain and his ability to think logically.”
Dr. Russell Lonser, the former chief of surgical neurology at the NIH, helped coordinate the study. In an interview, Dr. Lonser, who was recently named chairman of the department of neurological surgery at Ohio State University, said that because of the publicity surrounding the case, the study of Seau’s brain was “blinded” to ensure its independence.
Three independent neuropathologists from outside the NIH were given unidentified tissue from three different brains; one belonged to Seau, another to a person who had suffered from Alzheimer’s Disease, and a third from a person with no history of traumatic brain injury or neurodegenerative disease.
Dr. Lonser said the three experts independently arrived at the same conclusion as two other government researchers: that Seau’s brain showed definitive signs of CTE. Those signs included the presence of an abnormal protein called “tau” that forms neurofibrillary tangles, effectively strangling brain cells.
A Los Angeles Times report last summer, based on an initial examination by the San Diego County Medical Examiner, found that Seau had no alcohol or illegal drugs in his system when he committed suicide. The story also said an initial examination of the football player’s brain showed “no apparent damage” from his year in foot ball.
While local media are already cuing up with stories on Seau’s family’s response to this news, the larger implications of yet another former football player found to be suffering from brain damage have thus far taken a back seat in coverage.
Over four thousand former players are suing the National Football League over concussion damage, claiming fraud and negligence by that organization. That’s one third of all the players who have ever signed an NFL contract.
Regardless of the outcome of this lawsuit, it’s probable that America’s favorite sport will be changed forever. Some even claim that football as we know will disappear from the landscape in the no-so-distant future.
The implications here are large. Not only is football at every level a huge player on the economic scene, the sport has become part of our national psyche. There are powerful forces at work here with a strong vested interest in preserving the status quo.
The league says the NFL concussion litigation as nothing more than a labor dispute over workplace health and safety. The players see it differently. They see this litigation as a full frontal attack against the NFL for committing wrongs (i.e. fraud and negligence) against the players. (h/t nflconcussionlitigation.com)
New Mortgage Rules: Better Late Than Never
After years of wrangling the government is establishing rules for mortgage lenders that should avert future risky lending of the sort that nearly caused the housing market to collapse during the financial crisis. From the Washington Post:
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau on Thursday will roll out the first of several far-reaching changes to the nation’s mortgage market, limiting upfront fees and curtailing practices such as interest-only payments that can leave homeowners stuck with unsustainable loans. The agency also will set standards for how much income a consumer must have to obtain a mortgage.
This marks the first time the government has spelled out what constitutes a “qualified mortgage,” an effort to prevent the widespread toxic loans that hurt millions of Americans during the housing crisis.
Banks that offer qualified mortgages will be protected from lawsuits if they adhere to the criteria. The consumer agency hopes that will drive the entire industry to live by the tighter standards that have taken hold since the crisis, ensuring safer loans but potentially limiting the number of people who can qualify to buy a home.
Some of the reporting on this story that I’ve seen this morning is playing up the “some consumers won’t qualify for a loan” angle. Well, boo-hoo. The “Free Market” had it’s chance here and they blew it. My only complaint here is that some of these bad actors in the mortgage industry didn’t end up getting jail time.
Wait! Did the AIG Lawsuit Have Merit?
But Rolling Stone reporter Matt Taibbi says there may have been a kernel of truth at the heart of the lawsuit notion. While taking former AIG head Maurice “Hank” Greenberg to the woodshed for being a corrupt ‘douchebag’ (Taibbi doesn’t mince words) the story does shed a little more light on the sordid side of the world of finance.
One of Greenberg’s sour-puss claims is that the government denied AIG access to the Fed’s discount window in July of 2008 – in other words, that the Fed didn’t simply hand over a bunch of cash to AIG for free to allow it to escape its self-inflicted problems that way, instead of the government essentially taking over the company in exchange for a $182 billion rescue.
This would be ridiculous, were it not for the fact that the government did precisely that for other companies, including Goldman and Morgan Stanley, two investment banks which have been allowed to pose fictitiously as commercial banks for nearly half a decade now so that they could have access to the discount window.
Compared to the expert and loving attentions the government has lavished on the likes of Goldman and Morgan Stanley over the years, throwing money at these similarly irresponsible financial institutions essentially without any conditions at all (as Bloomberg reported, some of Goldman’s secret Fed loans in 2008 came with interest rates as low as .01 percent) the take-it-or-take-it takeover/bailout of AIG comes off like a slap in the face, if getting $182 billion of the public’s money can ever be seen that way.
The Science of Trolls
As the debate over what should (or should not) be done about gun violence in this country continues, one thing should be perfectly clear: there are a lot of very strong opinions among Americans on this subject.
This is obvious when you read the ‘comments’ on internet based stories about guns, gun control, gun violence or even a casual mention of the muscle behind the gun lobby. (You should see the comments that we here at SDFP have elected NOT to share with our readers on this subject.)
There exists (on all political fronts, for the record) a class of commenters who just can’t stop at expressing an opinion. They have to get ‘toxic’, like the person I quoted a few days back who thought telling a retired Del Mar school teacher to “crawl under a rock and die” was an effective retort to her attempt to gather signatures on a gun violence petition.
We call these people “trolls”.
Mother Jones is up today with an article that looks at the impact these sorts of comments have on public discourse. As I’ve long suspected, the evidence suggests this sort of vitriol has broader general effects than the specific insults getting hurled.
In a recent study, a team of researchers from the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication and several other institutions employed a survey of 1,183 Americans to get at the negative consequences of vituperative online comments for the public understanding of science. Participants were asked to read a blog post containing a balanced discussion of the risks and benefits of nanotechnology (which is already all around us and supports a $ 91 billion U.S. industry). The text of the post was the same for all participants, but the tone of the comments varied. Sometimes, they were “civil”—e.g., no name calling or flaming. But sometimes they were more like this: “If you don’t see the benefits of using nanotechnology in these products, you’re an idiot.”
The researchers were trying to find out what effect exposure to such rudeness had on public perceptions of nanotech risks. They found that it wasn’t a good one. Rather, it polarized the audience: Those who already thought nano-risks were low tended to become more sure of themselves when exposed to name-calling; while those who though nano-risks are high were more likely to move in their own favored direction. In other words, it appeared that pushing people’s emotional buttons, through derogatory comments, made them double down on their pre-existing beliefs.
Carl DeMaio: He’s Baack
Former City Councilman and Mayoral candidate Carl DeMaio is getting back into the business of “reform”. He’s making the rounds of the media today getting face time to announce his return. For this re-incarnation he’s recast his political action committee as “Reform San Diego”.
DeMaio’s also taking his ideas to a larger playing field, partnering with the right wing Reason Foundation on the California Reform Council. He’ll be chairman of the Council; working on ways to balance the state budget without tax increases with the top priority of pushing for pension changes statewide.
And he’s offering up his expertise on the national level, presenting a breakfast seminar at the Washington DC based American Enterprise Institute offering advice to state and local officials interested in his brand of “reforms”.
Like a bad penny…
Standardized School Test Scandal Spreads
On the heels of a PBS/Frontline documentary about cheating on standardized achievement tests in Washington DC schools during the Michelle Rhee administration comes this disclosure from veteran civil rights lawyer Mary Levy, published in Diane Ravitch’s blog. Bottom line: more fraud, intimidation and public relations ploys that had no impact of student achievement.
It is always interesting to watch power and ideology corrupting people’s judgment, in this case the belief that Michelle Rhee’s approach to education reform must be shown to be effective. There have been no meaningful investigations of the evidence of widespread cheating on DC’s state tests between 2008 and 2010. The ED IG’s statement implies that he relied on the DC IG, who only investigated one school. How could either know about the 102 other DCPS schools flagged for possible cheating? And why is the Department of Education so casual about test integrity? Why did Arne Duncan not ask his IG for a broader investigation?
I’ve studied DCPS data, policies, budget, and history for over 30 years. People with personal knowledge of what occurred during the testing aren’t talking to me any more than to anyone else, but my own data analysis supports the need for a real investigation. Among the top 10 DCPS erasure schools (over one-third of their classrooms flagged over a three year period), scores plummeted at all but one by 2010. At four-fifths of the top 20 erasure schools, scores fell by ten percentage points or more. These are schools with one quarter or more of their classrooms flagged. The bottom dropped out by chance at all those schools?
Contrary to Michelle Rhee’s assertion of “dozens and dozens of schools [with] “very steady gains” or even “some dramatic gains that were maintained,” DC CAS test scores rose significantly after 2008 at only a small number of schools (I counted). Ironically, several of those have been closed or are on the current closing list. Security was only tightened gradually, and is still vulnerable to exploitation, so we’re not at the end of the possibilities even now.
Over the months of preparing the Frontline documentary broadcast on Tuesday, January 7, John Merrow tried very hard to break through on investigating the evidence of cheating. He asked me and my colleagues for contacts and data often, and he actively and persistently sought out witnesses. But witnesses aren’t talking. They’re afraid. People in authority tend to dislike and distrust not only whistleblowers, but critics, even the friendly ones. Principals in DCPS serve at will, and the IMPACT evaluation system makes it easy to terminate teachers who displease their superiors. And after all, since cheating is so unimportant to the Department of Education and the leadership in DC, those who could bear witness can expect no result but retaliation.
Tweet of the Day:
@i_am_change_usa They can’t even hold a hearing on assault weapons. It took only 10 days for a hearing on Janet Jackson’s nipple.
— Eric (@aewells) January 10, 2013
On This Day: 1911 – Major Jimmie Erickson took the first photograph from an airplane while flying over San Diego. 1956 – Elvis Presley recorded his first songs as an RCA Victor artist in Nashville. Elvis recorded “Heartbreak Hotel,” “I Was the One,” “I’m Counting On You,” “I Got a Woman” and “Money Honey.” 1971 – “Masterpiece Theatre” premiered on PBS with host Alistair Cooke. The introduction drama series was “The First Churchills.”
Eat Fresh! Today’s Farmer’s Markets: Carmel Valley (Canyon Crest Academy 5951 Village Center Loop Road) 3:30 – 7:00 pm, Chula Vista(Downtown, Center St. & Third Ave.) 3 –7 pm, Linda Vista (6900 Linda Vista Road Between Comstock & Ulric) 2 – 7 pm, North Park (CVSPharmacy parking lot 3151 University & 32nd St.) 3 – 7 pm, Oceanside Market & Faire (Pier View Way & Coast Hwy. 101) 9 am – 1 pm,Oceanside Sunset (Tremont & Pier View Way) 5 –9 pm, San Carlos (Pershing Middle School 8204 San Carlos Drive) 4 – 7 pm, SDSU Farmers’ Market (Campanile Walkway btw Hepner Hall & Love Library) 10 – 3 pm, University Town Center (Genesee Ave. at UTC Westfield Shopping Plaza) 3 – 7 pm.
Did you enjoy this article? Subscribe to “The Starting Line” and get an email every time a new article in this series is posted!
I read the Daily Fishwrap(s) so you don’t have to… Catch “the Starting Line” Monday thru Friday right here at San Diego Free Press (dot) org. Send your hate mail and ideas to DougPorter@SanDiegoFreePress.
bob dorn says
Hey, Doug, why not a one-time publication of the worst of the worst?
Run it once a year, so that the mutants out there could practice up and lay some real toxins out there in competition with each other. It could provide some interesting insights into what issues inspire the worst from trolls: guns, Obama, mass transit, Chicago guns, public education, New Deal, marijuana, the West Coast, voting….?
Andy Cohen says
No, this is most certainly not the end of professional football as we know it. Let’s not get carried away with ourselves here.
There is absolutely no doubt that we have to find a way to make the game safer, particularly with regard to head injuries. The NFL, the helmet manufacturers, researchers, and other medical experts are taking this very seriously. The equipment has gotten better; the league has changed the rules regarding head injuries; doctors with an expertise in head trauma are now required to clear ANY player with any hint of a concussion; any player that shows even the slightest sign of a concussion will not be allowed to reenter any game (or practice); baseline concussion testing is now REQUIRED so that medical personnel can better judge what is “normal” and better diagnose the severity of a concussion. They’re even doing it at the high school level. Additionally, baseline testing also allows medical personnel to better judge when a player is fit to return to the game, which usually results in even more prolonged absences, much to the player’s chagrin.
Is the equipment good enough? Probably not yet. Are the protective measures that have been instituted over the last few years enough? Again, probably not. But at this point no one really knows what the solutions are. This is uncharted territory.
One thing that we as coaches can do, however, is to better police our own players who insist on using their heads as battering rams when hitting an opponent. Football fundamentals state that you NEVER lower your head; you ALWAYS see what you hit. Hit with your shoulder pads, not your helmet. And the only part of your headgear that should make contact with an opponent is the facemask. The helmet is there for protective purposes ONLY, not as a “weapon.”
But even at the highest levels of the game you still see players lowering their heads and hitting with the crown of their helmets. You still see far too much helmet to helmet contact, often deliberately. That’s something coaches have to continue to be diligent about. We won’t eliminate it entirely overnight, or even in one or two years, even if all coaches nationwide place the same emphasis on it. It will take time to break players of that habit. Sadly, though, not all coaches take it as seriously as others.
As for the NFL: Could they have done more sooner? Maybe. Truth is we just don’t know. Like I said, we know so little about head trauma and the causes of CTE and how to prevent it that we’re in uncharted territory. That’s what the research hopes to discover. But they are taking this very seriously, if belatedly. Better late than never. And whatever the NFL discovers will immediately be filtered down to the lower levels of the game.
Junior Seau never had a documented concussion during his NFL playing career. To my knowledge he never complained of one, and he was never treated by the Chargers team medical people for any kind of head trauma. The diagnosis of CTE that was just revealed was most likely NOT the result of a handful of major concussions, but rather the accumulation of thousands of small, minor events throughout his playing career. That was the nature of the way he played the game: Warp speed, and intensely physical. At this point it’s impossible to say what should have been done differently back then, particularly since the technology that went into the equipment was far less sophisticated than it is now.
Brent Beltran says
The technology is there to make helmets somewhat safer. But they are larger than the current helmets in use and players don’t want to wear them. They should be made mandatory at all levels of football.
Andy Cohen says
I haven’t seen anything like what you’re talking about.
But let’s assume you’re right: It then becomes a question of just how big and bulky they are, how much they restrict movement (the ability to be able to turn your head for peripheral vision is pretty important), and how heavy they are. They may be safer as far as protection from impact goes, but they may actually cause more danger in that they restrict a player’s movement and ability to be aware of his surroundings.
One thing to consider is the fact that players are bigger, stronger, and faster than in the past. This results in harder hits and stronger impact. As the equipment is getting better, the catch 22 is that the injuries are getting worse for that very reason. 250 was a good with for a linebacker once upon a time. Now 300 is the new normal.
bob dorn says
Guns don’t kill people; people kill people. The NFL doesn’t kill brains; people kill brains. Seems like the arguments commonly heard from defenders of guns and the NFL are fairly similar: we have enough laws already and just need to enforce them. If we were to enforce laws on coaches would Mike Shanahan be disciplined for leaving Robert Griffin III in the Seattle game? By whom? The league is not a government, it’s a business. Lawsuits will probably bring down the NFL as we know it. And maybe that’s a good thing.
Don’t count on it. Quite honestly I think it’s wrong to want such a thing. Steps need to be taken to make is less dangerous but bringing down a whole sport is a bit extreme and also not realistic.