Sunday, February 26, 2017

Wanted: Better Journalism About Football and CTE

A letter I just wrote to a McClatchy journalist:


I just read your Cedric Benson story on the KC Star website, which concludes with this:

While Benson suffered from a variety of lower-body injuries in the NFL, there are no records of him ever suffering a concussion.
Perhaps your story was edited to exclude additional information. If not, let me suggest the line — as it stands — omits so much information that it's possibly misleading.

Simply put: One needn't experience concussions to experience head trauma as a football player. Here's what the CTE Center says about the issue:
How do you get CTE? Can I get CTE from one concussion/hit to the head?We believe CTE is caused by repetitive brain trauma. This trauma includes both concussions that cause symptoms and subconcussive hits to the head that cause no symptoms. At this time the number or type of hits to the head needed to trigger degenerative changes of the brain is unknown. 

I'd wager that Mr. Benson received a fair number of non-concussive hits to his head during his career, wouldn't you?

Additionally, it's well-known that NFL teams haven't always been attentive to concussions, or the reporting of them, until relatively recently. Just last month, McClatchy's Charlotte Observer reported on evidence that suggests concussions remain underreported in today's league. 
I do not know if Mr. Benson is truly impaired or if, as you suggest, he is "trying to use the sport as an excuse." I do know that there's reason to believe NFL players self-medicate with alcohol to dampen the effects of CTE in their lives. Your story, as published, seems not to consider these possibilities. That's too bad.

Thanks for hearing me out,
Joel Mathis

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