TIME NFL

Are NFL Head Injuries Causing Domestic Violence?

Jovan Belcher, in September 2012.
Jovan Belcher, in September 2012. Kansas City Star—MCT/Getty Images

A report shows that Jovan Belcher, who killed his girlfriend before taking his own life in 2012, probably had football-related brain trauma. A link between the NFL's most troubling issues is far from implausible

Another football “what if” was just answered. In December 2012, after Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher shot and killed his girlfriend before fatally shooting himself in the head in the team parking lot, you couldn’t help but wonder: could head injuries associated with football have contributed to this horrible act? Aggression and lack of impulse control are known symptoms of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a brain disease that had ravaged the brains of over 30 deceased NFL players. A few of them had committed suicide.

Still, you had to approach the question gently, because casually linking the game to Belcher’s actions was irresponsible. Belcher also had “no long concussion history,” the Chiefs said at the time. There was no evidence that he had brain damage.

Until now. Far too often over the past few years, football’s worst fears are confirmed. According to a neuropathological report prepared in the wrongful death lawsuit that lawyers for Belcher’s daughter have filed against the Chiefs, Belcher’s brain showed signs of damage “fully consistent with the pathological presentation of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) as it is reported in the medical literature.” For example, the research — conducted by Dr. Piotr Kozlowski, dean of research and professor of pathology at the Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine in New York City — says that Belcher had clumps of tau protein in “the 7 out of 7 sections of the right (4 sections) and the left (3 sections) of the hippocampi.” A buildup of abnormal tau levels can cause nerve cell damage in the brain.

Belcher’s body was exhumed a year after his death; his brain showed “severe decomposition,” according to the report. Researchers can only diagnose CTE posthumously. “The quality and quantity are compromised because there was some breakdown of the brain after death and due to the gunshot,” says Dr. Sam Gandy, director of the Mount Sinai Center for Cognitive Health and NFL Neurological Center, who examined Kozlowski’s report at TIME’s request. “But I don’t see any reason to doubt this reading of CTE.”

Belcher is not the first athlete with signs of CTE to act violently. Chris Benoit, a former pro wrestler, killed his wife and son before committing suicide in 2007. The family of Paul Oliver, a former safety for the San Diego Chargers and New Orleans Saints, sued the NFL, the Chargers, the Saints and several helmet manufacturers after Oliver’s 2013 suicide. In an upcoming episode of HBO’s Real Sports, Oliver’s wife Chelsea talks about how her husband abused her. She says he pushed her, kicked her, pulled her hair, and threw her against the wall. One time, she says he dragged her up and down stairs. HBO asked Chelsea if she felt like her life was in jeopardy. “As time went on, I starting thinking about that, yes,” she said. Both Oliver and Benoit had CTE.

After these tragedies, all “what ifs” are on the table. It’s more than fair to ask if the NFL’s two most troubling issues, domestic violence and head trauma, are linked.”You can’t say those brown spots on Jovan Belcher’s brain caused him to do what he did,” says Dr. Julian Bailes, chairman of the department of neurosurgery at the NorthShore University HealthSystem outside of Chicago, who has extensively studied football brain injuries. “But are those brown spots tell-tale signs of a brain injury that influences behavior? With every case like this, we keep upping the ante.”

Even if players haven’t fully developed CTE, or haven’t suffered obvious concussions, they still may be at risk. “The frontal lobe of the brain often jostles around during head contact in football games,” says Gandy. “And the frontal lobe has an inhibiting effect that helps control behavior. Damage to the frontal lobe can compromise the inhibiting effect, and cause mood swings, even violence. You simply can’t exclude the possibility that frontal lobe damage is linked to damaging behavior.”

Scientists are starting to identifying possible ways to spot at-risk players while they’re still alive. Gandy injected a radioactive chemical that sticks to tau into a former NFL player who has suffered cognitive decline: a PET scan picked up the tau buildup, showing pathology consistent with CTE. “We’re still early in our experience, but at a minimum, we can signal to people that they might clinically be showing signs of CTE,” Gandy says. His team just published this neuroimaging technique in the journal Translational Psychiatry.

Bailes has also been working on a PET scanning method to spot CTE in living patients, in conjunction with UCLA researchers. He anticipates expanding it to NorthShore. “While it’s been rewarding to do work on tau,” says Bailes, “it’s gets a little tiring diagnosing patients when they’re already dead.”

 

TIME Developmental Disorders

Study: 96% of Deceased NFL Players’ Brains Had Degenerative Disease

The seal affixed to the front of the Department of Veterans Affairs building in Washington on June 21, 2013.
The seal affixed to the front of the Department of Veterans Affairs building in Washington on June 21, 2013. Charles Dharapak—AP

The brain bank's research furthers the argument that football is linked brain injury

The brains of 76 out of 79 (96%) of deceased NFL players showed signs of a degenerative brain disease, according to a study released Tuesday by the nation’s largest brain bank.

The Department of Veterans Affairs’ brain repository in Massachusetts, a collaboration between VA and Boston University’s CTE Center, found that the instance of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a brain condition that causes dementia and other cognitive problems, was so high that it doubled the number of CTE cases previously reported by the institution, PBS reported.

“Obviously this high percentage of living individuals is not suffering from CTE,” Dr. Ann McKee, the brain bank’s director, told PBS. “Playing football, and the higher the level you play football and the longer you play football, the higher your risk.”

Doctors at the brain repository have previously conducted research on brain tissue samples from professional, semi-professional, college and high-school football players. The rate of CTE, while lower than 96%, still remained high, at 80%.

The studies were made possible by football players who volunteered their brains for scientific research, because CTE can only be diagnosed posthumously, according to PBS. As a result, doctors who conducted the study said their sample may be skewed, as many volunteers donated their brains because when they were alive, they already suspected that they suffered from CTE.

Still, the findings have added fuel to heated discussions that football—both at professional and lower levels—may be linked to degenerative brain diseases like Alzheimer’s, as a recent study showed. The NFL has also come under fire for allegedly covering up the risks of head injuries and concussions, which are linked to individuals who suffer from CTE.

TIME swimming

Michael Phelps Tweets Apology After DUI Bust

Olympian was going almost double the speed limit and failed a sobriety test, authorities say

Olympic champion swimmer Michael Phelps tweeted to his fans Tuesday afternoon after he was arrested and charged with driving under the influence in Maryland early Tuesday morning.

Phelps, who is the most decorated Olympic athlete of all time, was caught driving 84 mph in a tunnel with a 45mph speed limit, Maryland police said. He allegedly crossed double lines in the tunnel, and failed multiple sobriety tests. Authorities told NBC he was cooperative throughout the process. Phelps had been charged with a DUI once before, in 2004, after he ran a stop sign.

The swimmer acknowledged Tuesday’s incident on Twitter, and apologized for letting fans down:

Phelps has 22 Olympic medals to his name, and famously won eight gold medals in eight events at the Beijing Games in 2008. He won four more gold medals at the London Games in 2012, but has not yet confirmed whether he will swim in the Rio Games in 2016.

TIME neuroscience

How A Girl’s Brain Changes After a Traumatic Brain Injury

Close up of teenage girls eyelashes
Getty Images

Concussions may influence girls differently than boys

Girls who suffer traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) may be more susceptible to behavioral problems like psychological distress and smoking compared to boys, according to a new study.

Each year, TBIs cause 2.5 million emergency room visits, and so far research has consistently shown that they’re more common among boys than girls. Girls still get them, though, and often in sports like soccer, basketball and cheerleading. A new study published in the journal PLOS ONE that surveyed 9,288 Ontario students in grades 7 through 12 reports that girls who suffered brain injuries—in sports, most commonly—were more likely to report having contemplated suicide, experienced psychological distress, been the target of bullying and having smoked cigarettes.

Overall, the new study reports that one in five adolescents had sustained a TBI that resulted in their loss of consciousness for at least five minutes or hospitalization at some point in their lifetime. Boys experienced them 6% more than girls. These young people who had experienced a lifetime TBI also reported behaviors in the last year like daily smoking, binge drinking, using marijuana, cyberbullying and poor grades.

MORE: The Tragic Risks of American Football

Since the results were self-reported, the researchers could not determine causation, nor could they provide a definitive explanation for the gender differences. In the study, they speculate that it could have to do with a variety of factors that include hormonal differences, treatment differences, differences in cognitive abilities or some combination.

Dr. Geoffrey Manley, vice chairman of neurological surgery at the University of California, San Francisco, was not involved in the study but has another theory. According to his own research, women tend to be more forthcoming about their concussion symptoms than men. “Currently, we don’t have a clear idea of what exactly a concussion is,” he says. “We are really limited to self-reporting, and women are more honest about their symptoms than boys.”

Girls get TBIs most often playing soccer and basketball, but other sports—cheerleading, in particular—have very high risk for injuries. The American Academy of Pediatrics has called for more safety regulations for the cheerleading, even though it tends to not be included in national high school sports injury research.

There’s still a lot we don’t know about TBIs and concussions, including the best way to diagnose them. So far there is not a reliable imaging or biomarker test. But understanding who is at a risk, and for which reasons, helps bolster the collective knowledge of the issue. “No matter how you slice this, a subset of these folks are going to go on and have long-term disability,” says Manley. “We can try to predict who these people are going to be, and gender may be part of this.”

TIME Regulation

FCC Ends Rule That Led to NFL ‘Blackouts’

Tom Brady
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady throws a pass during pre-game warm-ups before playing the Kansas City Chiefs on September 29, 2014. Matthew J. Lee—The Boston Globe/Getty Images

The FCC brushed aside the NFL's objections that blackouts were needed to drum up attendance at undersold games

The Federal Communications Commission unanimously voted Tuesday to revoke its support for “sports blackouts,” in which a sports team can suppress local broadcasts of its games until it has sold a certain percentage of stadium seating. But the FCC said blackouts could continue as part of separate agreements between teams and local broadcasters, raising questions about whether the rule change will really lead to fewer blackouts.

The little-known rule, which was first put into effect in 1975, disproportionately affected NFL games, which were blacked out if the team hadn’t sold 85 to 100 percent of its tickets 72 hours before kickoff.

The FCC called the rule an “unnecessary and outdated” means of drumming up ticket sales. “Television revenues have replaced tickets sales as the NFL’s main source of revenue, and blackouts of NFL games are increasingly rare,” the FCC said in a statement announcing the decision.

TIME olympics

Michael Phelps Busted on DUI Charge

SWIM-PANPACS-AUS-USA
Michael Phelps of the US reacts following the men's 100 m butterfly heat at the Gold Coast Aquatic Centre on the Gold Coast in Australia on Aug. 23, 2014. Patrick Hamilton—AFP/Getty Images

Phelps is the most decorated Olympic athlete in history

Olympic swimming champion Michael Phelps was arrested and charged with DUI and other charges in Maryland early Tuesday morning, News4 has confirmed.

Phelps was driving 84 mph inside the Fort McHenry Tunnel on Interstate 95 in Baltimore, said Maryland Transportation Authority Police. The speed limit in the tunnel is 45 mph.

Phelps was also charged with excessive speed and crossing double lane lines. He was arrested around 1:40 a.m., TMZ first reported. Phelps is the most decorated Olympic athlete in history with 22 medals: 18 gold, 2 silver and 2 bronze…

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

TIME NFL

NFL Says Player Shouldn’t Have Been Penalized for Muslim Prayer

Husain Abdullah
Kansas City Chiefs free safety Husain Abdullah carries the ball after intercepting a pass during the fourth quarter of an NFL football game against the New England Patriots Sept. 29, 2014, in Kansas City, Mo. Ed Zurga—AP

Husain Abdullah bent his head to the ground in a traditional Muslim prayer after a touchdown

An NFL spokesman said Tuesday morning that Kansas City Chiefs safety Husain Abdullah shouldn’t have been penalized for celebrating a touchdown with a Muslim prayer on Monday night.

According to the NFL, officials aren’t supposed to flag players who go to the ground for religious reasons.

With 10:34 remaining in the fourth quarter of Kansas City’s game against the New England Patriots, Abdullah intercepted a pass from Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and returned it 39 yards for a touchdown that put Kansas City up 41-7 in a game it eventually won 41-14.

BURKE: Monday night nightmare for Patriots in loss to Chiefs

After crossing the goal line, Abdullah slid on his knees and then bent his head to the ground in a traditional Muslim prayer after his slide had stopped, at which point he was penalized.

While NFL rules prohibit celebrations that occur on the ground, officials have made an exception for Christian prayer celebrations, seemingly necessitating a similar exception for Muslim prayer celebrations.

According to the Associated Press, Abdullah said after the game that he thought he was penalized for his slide and not going to the ground in prayer.

After the penalty, CJ LaBoy, Abdullah’s agent, said on Twitter “there’s going to be some problems” if Abdullah receives a fine from the NFL for his celebration.

FARRAR: Raiders fire Allen as situation in Oakland remains a mess

Abdullah is known within the NFL as a devout Muslim, along with older brother Hamzy Abduallah, a former NFL safety.

Husain Abdullah took the 2012 season off in order to make Hajj, the traditional Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, joined by Hamzy. He said after the trip that the pair “had to” make the trip despite potentially sacrificing their NFL futures because of its importance to their faith.

Abdullah also fasts during Ramadan, which often falls during training camp, meaning he must go without food and water during the daytime while working around practices.

The touchdown against the Patriots was the second of Abdullah’s career.

This article originally appeared on SI.com

TIME Football

Michigan Coach Under Fire for Sending Dazed QB Back into Game

Brady Hoke accused of ignoring symptoms that university physicians later confirmed were the result of a concussion

University of Michigan’s football coach has faced a rising chorus of calls for his resignation for allowing a limping, visibly disoriented quarterback to stay on the field, despite symptoms that university physicians later confirmed were the result of a concussion.

Michigan coach Brady Hoke defended his decision to send quarterback Shane Morris back into the game Monday, saying that Morris appeared to have suffered an ankle injury and that the team “would never, ever put a guy on the field when there’s a possibility of head trauma,” CBS Sports reports.

But a report from the University’s athletic department confirmed that Morris had suffered a concussion and blamed the delayed diagnosis on “inadequate communication” between coaches and medical staff. “This clearly identifies the need for improvements in our sideline and communication processes,” said Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon.

The sight of Morris wobbling and struggling to stay on his feet caught the attention of the game’s announcers. “They’ve just got to get him out of the ballgame,” one said, adding, “That number 7 is still in this game is appalling to me.”

[CBS]

 

TIME NFL

NFL Under Fire for Penalizing Muslim Player After End Zone Prayer

He was handed a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct

The NFL sparked yet more outrage Monday after appearing to penalize Kansas City Chiefs player Husain Abdullah, a devout Muslim, for kneeling on the ground in the end zone to praise God after scoring the second touchdown of his career.

This post-TD reaction was deemed unsportsmanlike conduct for excessive celebration and resulted in a 15-yard penalty:

The reaction from Abdullah’s brother and agent indicated this was indeed a moment of prayer:

Which, according to former VP of Officiating at the NFL Mike Pereira in a 2013 tweet, is not the intent of the rule against going to the ground:

In a 2009 interview, Pereira said that he didn’t want to penalize prayer for fear of getting “struck by lightning.”

Fans took to Twitter to denounce the call, which has incited the creation of various memes showing what prayer is deemed acceptable and what is penalized:

But Abdullah himself said it was likely his slide across the end zone that had provoked the penalty call, and not his impromptu prayer. “I got a little too excited,” he told local media. “The slide before it, I’m pretty sure that did it.”

The Chiefs ended up beating the Patriots 41-14.

TIME NFL

Vikings Still Hawk Peterson Jerseys Despite Ban for Abuse Allegations

Adrian Peterson
Adrian Peterson Dilip Vishwanat—Getty Images

The team is still very prominently selling Peterson’s jersey at their home games.

The Minnesota Vikings are paying Adrian Peterson to stay as far away from them as possible, but they’re not about to stop turning a profit off of him.

The best running back in the NFL stands accused of beating his child and his team wants nothing to to do with him. That’s the official and public team stance anyways, but the pocketbook in Minnesota is telling a very different story. As one Vikings fan pointed out on Sunday, the team is still very prominently selling Peterson’s jersey at their home games.

Deadspin posted a photo from a reader that shows the Vikings may not want Peterson around in person, but if he’s there in spirit and they can turn a profit, then that’s a different story. This shows the true face of the NFL but it’s a face we already knew about. At the end of the day, the NFL is a business and everything is a profit margin — even running backs like Peterson who stands accused of abusing his child.

The Vikings can do whatever they want, as Peterson isn’t suspended and he’s still part of the team in the most technical of ways. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be pointed out that selling his jerseys is in the poorest taste possible.

This article originally appeared on SI.com

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