THE CONCUSSION DISCUSSION
2002: Dr. Bennet Omalu makes news when he examines the 50-year-old brain of deceased Pittsburgh Steelers Hall of Fame center Mike Webster. In the first examination of its kind on an NFL player, Omalu found evidence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a disorder associated with repeated head trauma. Today, according to Boston University's Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, the brains of 18 of 19 dead ex-NFL players have shown evidence of CTE.
Nov. 20, 2006: Former Eagles and Cardinals safety Andre Waters commits suicide with a gunshot to the head. Omalu examines samples of Waters' 44-year-old brain and determines that it had degenerated to that of an 85-year-old man.
Feb. 17, 2011: Former Bears safety Dave Duerson, who was experiencing cognitive complications when he wrote a note that said, "Please, see that my brain is given to the NFL's brain bank." Then he killed himself with a gunshot to the chest.
April 19, 2012: Former Falcons safety Ray Easterling, who in 2011 was the first lead plaintiff to file a federal class-action concussion lawsuit against the league, commits suicide as his dementia worsens at age 62.
May 2, 2012: Future Hall of Fame linebacker Junior Seau kills himself with a gunshot to the chest. He was 43.
The NFL, which was slow to recognize and accept the potential long-term effects of repeated head trauma, argues that it couldn't possibly have known the effects considering medical science only started to begin understanding it just 10 years ago. "Any allegation that the NFL intentionally sought to mislead players has no merit," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said in a recent statement. "It stands in contrast to the league's actions to better protect players and advance the science and medical understanding of the management and treatment of concussions."
Named NFL Commissioner in 2006, Roger Goodell has made it a point of emphasis to change the culture by cracking down on illegal hits. A turning point in his crusade came following the third week of the 2010 season, which was marked by several violent helmet-to-helmet hits. On Oct. 19 of that year, he fined Steelers linebacker James Harrison, Falcons cornerback Dunta Robinson and Patriots safety Brandon Meriweather for their controversial hits the previous weekend. Goodell also released a memo to all teams that said, "It is clear to me that further action is required to emphasize the importance of teaching safe and controlled techniques, and playing within the rules." Goodell promised not only incremental fines, but suspensions for repeat offenders. This year, Goodell punished the Saints particularly hard for their bounty program.