Monday, December 3, 2012
NFL SUICIDES: NOBODY REALLY KNOWS WHY
On the same day Javon Belcher killed his girlfriend and himself, Eric Eucker, an
assistant groundskeeper with the Cleveland Browns, committed suicide at the
team's practice facility in Berea, Ohio. Eucker never played a down of college
or professional football and I don't believe he ever suffered any head injuries from
lining a field.
David Oliver Relin, who co-authored the best-selling memoir, "3 Cups Of Tea",
killed himself last month in Oregon. I can almost guarantee that he never suffered
any concussions while putting pen to paper as a writer.
Eucker and Relin were two people from very different walks of life who decided
to end the ones they were given. I don't know what was going on inside
their minds but I'm pretty confident in saying that they weren't depressed or
unhappy with their lives because they had suffered repeated blows to the head.
Yet, when a linebacker from the Kansas City Chiefs guns down his girlfriend
and then blasts his own brains out, there are many in the media and the general
public who want to pin it on concussions suffered while playing football. Of course,
that's the easy answer since the media has pounded the public incessantly about
NFL players, former and current who have taken their own lives, some of whom
had records of multiple concussions and even brain damage, discovered of course,
after the player killed themselves.
Belcher didn't kill himself because of brain damage. He committed suicide after
killing his girlfriend which he knew would put him behind bars for life. Belcher
knew the world isn't very forgiving of a man who erases the life of the mother
of their three-month old baby by pumping lead into her. Belcher showed the true
coward that he was by taking the easy and quick way out.
As expected, various media outlets pointed the finger at the easy and most
convenient thing: concussions and brain damage caused by hard hits in football.
This is what producers do when they want to make compelling television without
having to work at it. Most television producers take the path already created by
others and do what Belcher did: take the easy way out.
CNN ushered out Dr. Sanjay Gupta, their resident neurosurgeon. His insight
is far more brilliant than the average talking head on television, but right now, it's
still just speculation and far from definitive. And really, there is nothing set in stone
when it comes to correlating concussions and brain damage with suicides among
NFL players, current and former ones. Nothing.
Why is it that Dick Butkus, one of the hardest-hitting linebackers to ever play the
game, doesn't have dementia, memory loss, or depression? He hasn't killed himself,
has he? How come Dick LeBeau, a Hall of Fame defensive back and now the
75-year old defensive coordinator of the Pittsburgh Steelers, is still sharp as a tack.
Why is it that LeBeau can still create brilliant defensive schemes, while Dave Duerson,
a former defensive back, suffered from early dementia before taking his own life?
Because we just don't know. Because doctors just don't know. Research on
brain trauma and its long-term effects is still very far from complete and there
aren't any real answers. Head injuries and the brain aren't easy to figure
out, if they were, we'd know a heckua lot more about them then we do today.
Muhammad Ali fought 61 times as a pro and took a lot of blows to the head.
He was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease at the age of 42. Why is it that
Chuck Wepner, who fought 51 times and was a human punching bag for a lot
of boxers, including Ali, doesn't have any problems with cognitive functions?
At the age of 72, how can Wepner run a liquor store without memory loss
or Parkinsons, when Ali has to be helped in everything he does? We just don't
know. Nobody has the answers.
10 years ago, many people would have speculated that Belcher suffered
from 'roid rage, thanks to possible steroid use. That was the hot topic with
the media at the time. Now, it's concussions and brain trauma.
13 current or former NFL players have committed suicide in the last 25 years.
Compared to other work forces and the rest of society, that's not a big or
shocking number. Yes, some of those players like Duerson suffered mulitple
concussions that were probably not treated very well. But a lot of the players
were also bankrupt, going through a divorce, or just couldn't cope with life
The fact is, nobody really knows what set Belcher off. It could've been
jealousy that caused him to snap. We just don't know, just as we don't
know why Eucker or Relin chose to end their own lives. It's all speculation,
nobody anywhere has the answers just yet.