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Between the Uprights

March 27, 2015

Let me tell you a little story.

When I was nine- or 10-years- old, I lived in a tiny town called Olean in Missouri; population right around 350 people. A World Champion boxer named Leon Spinks came through town. This guy beat Muhammad Ali in 1978 to win the undisputed heavyweight championship in only his 8th professional bout. I know Ali was way past his prime, but still, this was big for ol’ Olean.

The only thing I remember about him was how detached he was. You would say something to him and he would just not register it. The man with him, I’m assuming his manager, would direct him on his next move. I now realize he acted this way because he was pummeled in the head for a living. He currently resides in Nebraska but has been found to have health issues connected to his brain.

Over 800 former NFL players are suing the NFL for health issues stemming from head injuries during their career. This is prompting young players like recently retired 49er Chris Borland to rethink this as a profession. He retired, citing what the game might do to him neurologically.

Long-time superstar Junior Seau committed suicide in 2012. Chicago Bears defensive back Dave Duerson shot himself in the chest specifically so his brain could be studied. Traces of CTE were found in the brains of both men. CTE is a neurological disease linked to concussions and connected to depression, insomnia, emotional withdrawal and compulsive behavior, all of which afflicted them, according to friends and family. The problem with CTE is it can only be identified after an individual is deceased.

These are just a few of many tragic stories involving former athletes, ones that didn’t have the access to studies and information we do now. My question is, when are we going to stop worshipping the toughest guy in the room? Dudes shouldn’t have to punish their brain for our amusement or for a living.

Call it the “Wussification of America,” call it what you will. I personally have had one diagnosed concussion and who knows how many undiagnosed. Don’t get me wrong – I love football and like to take in a boxing match now and then, but I do not like seeing people suffer.

I just hope we start placing a higher premium on mental health than we do on touchdowns.

Ace Henricks

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