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27 Feb 2011

Duerson death should be seen as wake-up call

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February 27, 2011 Category: Sports Posted by:

By Chris Murray

For the Sunday Sun


As the players and owners figure out a way to divide billions in revenue as part of a new collective bargaining agreement, one would hope that both sides could agree on the subject of player safety and why it should be a priority for those who are currently playing and who have retired from the game.


If it’s not a priority now, the suicide of former Chicago Bears safety Dave Duerson should make it one.


Duerson’s haunting tale should be a grim reminder that more has to be done to help with the health care of players once they leave the game and to take certain precautions for those who are currently in the game.


“Safety should be first,” said Ron Davis, president of the Philadelphia chapter of the NFL Players Association for former players who was offensive lineman with the St.Louis Cardinals back in the 1970s .


“As pro players you’re proud that you can hit people hard, you can get up and jump up. But it’s all in one blow that makes you a former player. That’s all you need is one to go from an athlete to a former player. We realize now how safety is paramount not only to survival of the players not only to the revenue, but it’s common sense.”


In the aftermath of Duerson’s death, it’s imperative that the NFL Players Association and the owners come up with a way to make the game safer for current players and that they set aside more money to help those players who will suffer a myriad of physical ailments once their playing days are over.


Duerson was suffering from depression that was most likely induced from the effects of blows to the head that he received during his playing days.


What made Duerson’s death even more troubling was that he shot himself in the heart and in his note he urged his family to donate his brain to the NFL’s brain bank at Boston University Hospital to see if his depression was caused by chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease that causes depression, cognitive impairment, and sometimes suicide. It’s commonly known as “punch drunk syndrome.” Twenty former NFL players are said have had the disease.


Former Eagles safety Andre Waters, who also committed suicide, was diagnosed with CTE.


In his 11 years in the NFL with both the Chicago Bears and the New York Giants, Duerson, who recently turned 50, was a four-time Pro Bowler and a hard-hitting safety as a player. After his career as a player, Duerson had run his own successful business in the food services industry. He also served as a volunteer on a panel that considered the medical claims of former NFL players seeking assistance for long-term injuries that occurred during their playing days.


Sometime around 2007, Duerson’s life came undone. His multi-million dollar business went into receivership and his home was foreclosed. Duerson wound up leaving the Board of Trustees at Notre Dame because he assaulted his wife during a domestic dispute.


Duerson’s ex-wife, Alicia, had noticed that Duerson was having problems putting together words on paper and verbally. He was also having problems with short-term memory. To make things even worse, Duerson declared personal bankruptcy last September.


Even though some would argue that the NFL was a bit overzealous in its enforcement of helmet-to-helmet hits this season, you have to applaud the league for understanding the severity of the problem and taking steps to rectify it.


However, at the same time, the NFL in its negotiations with the players union wants to increase the regular season to 18-games while wanting the players to turn give the owners the majority of the revenue. That’s something that makes the players doubt the sincerity of the league when it comes to their safety.


Just ask Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Ellis Hobbs, who suffered season-ending neck injury from a helmet-to-helmet hit. He said if they’re going to increase the season, they have to take the players health into consideration and the amount of compensation.


“When you go through an injury like I did and have been through the injuries that I’ve had throughout my career why do want to risk putting on two extra games when it’s already a long enough season,” Hobbs told the Sunday SUN last November. “Without the right compensation, I really don’t see that happening or something that we can agree with.”


To me, Duerson’s death should be a wake-up call to both sides of the collective bargaining negotiations that the billion that they are carving up for themselves is not early as important as the health and well being of its current and former players.

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