“I can say he’s a good kid — he was a good kid, and I think the football messed him up.” — Alonzo Adams, father of Philip Adams, a former college and NFL football player, who killed five people and seriously injured another before killing himself yesterday in South Carolina.
Yesterday, the Palm Beach Sheriffs Office arrested former Florida State and New York Giants wide receiver Travis Rudolph was arrested for first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder in a South Florida double shooting.
It’s too early to say that Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is responsible for these killings. CTE is a condition that can result from repeated trauma to the head–like what happens to football players. We won’t know if Rudolph is a CTE victim until he dies.
At some point, Adams will have an autopsy, and we’ll know–but we’ll have moved on to the next thing by then.
Mike Webster was the center for the Pittsburgh Steelers during their glory days, playing for their first four Super Bowl winners (starting at center in Super Bowls XIII and XIV). He’s in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and was named to the NFL’s 75th and 100th anniversary teams, and the all-decade teams for both the 1970s and 1980s. He died in 2002 at the age of 50. He was shown to be disabled while he still played for the Steelers. After his career ended, he suffered from amnesia, dementia, and chronic pain. He lived his last years in his pickup truck and in train stations, in spite of offers to help him from teammates.
He was the first former NFL player to be diagnosed with CTE. His estate sued the NFL and won a $1.6 million judgement.
Since then, an All-Star team has come out as suffering from CTE-related maladies. Living players include Tony Dorsett, Mike Adamle, Mark Duper, Brett Favre, Bernie Kosar, Tim Green (a former NFL analyst and novelist), Leonard Marshall, Jim McMahon, Antwaan Randle-El, and Darryl Talley. Randle-El is just 41.
Deceased players include Dwight Clark, Frank Gifford, John Mackey, Earl Morrall, Bubba Smith, Ken Stabler, Aaron Hernandez, and Tommy Nobis.
Former Bears safety Dave Duerson, Falcons safety Ray Easterling, and Chargers and Patriots linebacker Junior Seau committed suicide. Duerson and Seau both shot themselves in the chest so their brains could be autopsied.
Former Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher murdered his girlfriend (and mother of his child), then drove to the Chiefs practice facility and after talking to then-General Manager Scott Pioli, head coach Romeo Crennel, and linebackers coach Gary Gibbs, then shot himself in the head. His autopsy also found CTE.
Hernandez was found guilty of murdering a friend, Odin Lloyd in 2013. Hernandez was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. In April 2017, he was found dead in his prison cell in a Massachusetts prison after hanging himself with a bed sheet.
Former two-sport star Bo Jackson has said that if he knew about CTE, he wouldn’t have played football (and what a baseball star he might’ve been).
It’s possible neither Adams nor Rudolph have CTE. It’s at least equally as likely that one or both do.
Settlements with more than 4,500 players and public pressure have prompted the NFL to amend rules to protect player, but there’s a high likelihood the league knew about the effects of concussions before that knowledge became well-established to the public. And to be fair, the NFL is the last stop for these players, most of whom have played football since childhood. Whatever damage was done, started long before they first put on an NFL jersey.
Unfortunately, because you can’t tell about CTE damages until someone dies–and because by the time players get to the pros, in some cases the damage may already be done, there’s a long road before these tragedies start to abate.
Most of the affected players loved the game, and found a way to focus and achieve. For some, it was a pathway to success that wouldn’t have otherwise been available,
I like football. I’d like to see my team, the Jets, become relevant again. But it bothers me that the sport I’ve enjoyed since Joe Namath days may be driving former players, and sometimes others, to early deaths.
Like Bo Jackson, if my children were interested in playing, I’d probably try to steer them elsewhere.
Football at all levels has started to respond to the CTE issue. Leading with you helmet when you tackle, for instance, has been a penalty for years. Concussion protocols are the norm at most levels of football. Rather than just hustling back out there so you can keep your job, you have to be cleared medically to play.
But in a sport like football, you’ll never eliminate all the head injuries. And there’s enough information available now that players aren’t ignorant of the risks.
In some ways, this is a problem without an absolute solution. In a free society, if someone wants to play football, they should be able to.
These stories will never fully go away. But hopefully as this generation of football players ages into retirement from the game, they’ll start to become less common.