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Wednesday, May 4, 2011
Have at It: Impact of Dave Duerson news

By Kevin Seifert
ESPN.com

This week, Boston University researchers confirmed publicly that former Chicago Bears safety Dave Duerson suffered from a form of brain damage -- chronic traumatic encephalopathy -- found recently in about two dozen other deceased former pro football players.

Dave Duerson
Former Bears safety Dave Duerson testified in 2007 in Washington regarding legislation aimed at reducing concussions by youth football players.
The initial reaction is to add this episode to the rising panic about the long-term effects of playing football. How many players of Duerson's generation, and those following, are doomed to similar future health problems? Exactly what are the players of today signing up for? And what does this mean for the game moving forward?

Some of you are pleading for patience and to avoid panic. In a long note to the mailbag, Louis wrote in part: "I have been around the game of football for almost 40 years (player, coach, etc.). ... Millions of people in this county have played football. Clearly the majority are doing fine and most point to the time when they played as one of the greatest experiences of their lives. We are not all walking around suffering from head injuries."

So I'd like to try a bit of a different topic for this week's "Have at It."

My first thought was to ask if you think football is safe, but I think we all accept that players take a significant physical risk -- be it on the youth level, in high school, college or in the NFL. Generally, those risks are of the orthopedic variety -- the possibility of tearing up a knee, mangling your fingers or busting up your shoulder.

To me, the issue has moved beyond whether you'll be debilitated in the short term or bothered by lingering pain in the long term. It's this: Can the decision to play football for an extended period be a death sentence?

Let's personalize that issue the best we can. As you learn more about the long-term impact of head injuries, and watch the NFL and NFL Players Association fight over appropriate treatment, would you let your child (or future child) play football? Obviously, a statistical sliver of youth football players will make it to the NFL. But it isn't as if short- and long-term disabilities from the game are limited to those who played as a pro.

I don't expect many of you to say, "Yes, now that I know Dave Duerson committed suicide because of an apparent football-related injury, I don't want my son on the field." I realize it's more complicated than that. Louis is right. Millions (or at least thousands) of healthy Americans carry nothing but life-changing memories from playing football.

But facts evolve. Biology changes. Knowledge rises. Are you feeling any different about the issue than you did, say, a year ago or five years ago?

Let me see your thoughts in the comment section below. I'll publish a representative sample, along with my own thoughts, by the end of the week.