Last week, we heard the surprising announcements that twentysomething athletes Patrick Willis, Jason Worilds, Jake Locker and Maurice Jones-Drew are stepping away from the NFL much earlier than everyone expected. These moves, dubbed as “crazy” by some, may be the smartest decisions the stars have made.
In a world where former NFL players are suffering from a laundry list of ailments, one in particular sticks out like Kanye West at a K-Mart: Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy or CTE for short.
Boston University defined CTE as “a progressive degenerative disease of the brain found in athletes (and others) with a history of repetitive brain trauma, including symptomatic concussions as well as asymptomatic subconcussive hits to the head.
“CTE has been known to affect boxers since the 1920s. However, recent reports have been published of neuropathologically confirmed CTE in retired professional football players and other athletes who have a history of repetitive brain trauma. This trauma triggers progressive degeneration of the brain tissue, including the build-up of an abnormal protein called tau. These changes in the brain can begin months, years, or even decades after the last brain trauma, or end of active athletic involvement. The brain degeneration is associated with memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, impulse control problems, aggression, depression, and, eventually, progressive dementia.”
These newly retired players may be avoiding that one hit that takes them over the edge.
Willis, former linebacker of the San Francisco 49ers, stated in his retirement press conference, “Honestly, I pay attention to guys when they’re finished playing, walking around and they’ve got no hips or they can’t play with their kids or they can’t play a pickup basketball game or they can barely walk or their fingers are all like this and people see that and feel sorry then, but nobody knows it’s because you played those few extra years.”
“And for me, I just feel like my life, there’s more to football than this and football has been everything to me and it has provided an amazing platform for me to build upon now,” he added.
The former 49er, however, doesn’t yet know what he will do after football.
Jake Locker (formerly of the Titans), Worilds (formerly of the Pittsburgh Steelers), and Jones-Drew (formerly of the Oakland Raiders), haven’t cited health as a reason for moving like Willis. However, they will no doubt reap the health benefits of retiring early.
Some former players haven’t been so lucky.
NFL players with a tragic end
Junior Seau, one of the greatest linebackers to ever grace the NFL, took his life in a very sad end. In 2012 the former San Diego Chargers star, who played from 1990 to 2009, was found dead in 2012 from a self inflicted gun shot wound to the chest. Doctors found CTE after studying the Hall of Famer’s brain.
While he did not mention it in his suicide note, it is speculated by some that he left his brain in tact so it could be studied.
Former Bears defensive back Dave Duerson also committed suicide, but left a text message saying: “Please, see that my brain is given to the NFL’s brain bank.”
While the game surely will lose a bit of its shine without stars the caliber of Patrick Willis, they will without a doubt lead a healthier life.
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