TD, CTE and Me

For a football running back, one of the greatest and most electrifying to watch, what could be better than having the initials “TD”? When I first started paying attention to

Just a kid in college, with a nation (or two) watching him run.

Tony Dorsett, he was a skinny freshman tailback for the University of Pittsburgh Panthers. Skinny, yes, but also shocking in the ease of his changes of pace and direction, all that effortless speed and the instinct to elude. He made defenders disappear.

Yes, but only sometimes. You don’t win Heisman Trophies as the best in American college football, and you don’t churn through a Hall of Fame career in the brutal territory of the National Football League, without massive numbers of massive collisions with massive, furiously destructive opponents. Now, Touchdown Tony is a 59-year-old husband and father whose family sometimes hasn’t known what to make of him. He has been moody, sometimes upbeat but too often morose or scarily angry, and he tells of one day being unable to remember the way to take his young daughters to a practice he’d chauffeured for many a time. He tells of dark thoughts, but doesn’t want anyone to think he’ll hurt himself any more than his chosen profession already has.

He went looking for answers. The doctors at UCLA figured it out, but what does he do with this knowledge? Although a conclusive diagnosis, as I understand it, can’t be made until the brain is sectioned and stained and microscopically examined – that is, post-mortem – Dorsett now believes that he has Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy,

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Foot Soldiers of a Different Sort

The TV types back home have been wearing poppies for a week now, and the day of remembrance has arrived. On another front of stylized war, the sporting airwaves have been spiked with tales of a truly offensive lineman for the Miami Dolphins and the out-of-bounds brutality he is said to have inflicted on his team-mate. There is much hand-wringing from the shocked public, which is countered by furious defence by insiders, arguing that civilians – and I use the word purposely – cannot know the ferociously masculinized world-of-the-wars that is an NFL locker-room. For today, I will only say that Mr. Incognito (that’s actually his name) “did not act alone”, and cite a superbly indignant piece on the “warrior culture” and its insistence that Being a Man involve sometimes being less than human. Now, it’s two other offensive lineman – the grunts, the hewers of wood and haulers of water, the spear-carriers of this quite incredible game/industry of football – that I want to mention, for an entirely different reason: they’re done with it, gone too soon as some fans might lament.

I read about them the same day. One was an NFL pro, one a wannabe in the high echelons of the NCAA “student athlete” zone of professional apprenticeship. Josh Williford played for Louisiana State University, a usual top-ten program in the best league in America. He’s 6’7” and weighs way north of 300 pounds, and in a game in October of 2012, he lost his mind.

Cuts heal, but we’re not so sure about concussions. I’ve been there — different field, same blankness — more than once. Man down, way down.

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