Tommy Dreamer - a doubting Thomas on the dangers of concussions and Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) in the NFL and professional wrestling. Photo via upload.wikimedia.org.
Perhaps the biggest issue facing combat sports is how they will handle concussions in the future, a question provoked by former NFL player Junior Seau's recent suicide. Even before he committed suicide there was speculation that he may be suffering from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), when he drove his SUV off a cliff in October 2010 hours after being arrested for assaulting his girlfriend. Such erratic behaviour certainly fits the profile of someone suffering the disease, even though a diagnosis can only currently be made from a post-mortem examination of the brain:
The clinical symptoms associated with CTE vary in severity depending on which of three clinical stages the individual is experiencing. In the first stage, which may take place over months to years, a patient may suffer from a number of symptoms including headaches, dizziness, confusion, depression, and psychosis. As the disease progresses to the second stage, the individual may suffer from social instability, erratic behavior, memory loss, and the initial symptoms of Parkinson's disease. The final stage consists of a progressive deterioration to dementia and may have other symptoms including those associated with Parkinson's disease.
Moreover, Seau's ex-wife has admitted that he played through multiple concussions during his career. So the CTE speculation is clearly warranted here, but one wrestler, Tommy Dreamer, in an article for The Kingston Whig Standard and SLAM! Wrestling, thinks he knows better than all those football pundits and medical experts combined who have been following the story.
Dreamer recalls how he briefly contemplated suicide after he was dumped by his first girlfriend at the age of fifteen. Though he claims to speaks from experience, there's a big difference between considering suicide and going through with it, and, of course, just because many people who have never suffered a single concussion commit suicide that doesn't mean repetitive brain trauma can't increase the risk of getting deep depression and suicidal feelings. Of course, Dreamer mentions Chris Benoit's double murder suicide and the similarity between these two incidents, but he still thinks Benoit's actions are completely unexplainable, even though he was diagnosed with CTE after his death, a salient fact that Dreamer ignores:
Hearing many of Junior Seau's former teammates tell stories of him reminded me so much of the day the Benoit tragedy occurred. "Shocked" was the word being repeated over and over. "He was such a happy guy." "He would do anything for others," I keep hearing them say. It was the same thing we all said when Chris died. Thankfully nobody else was hurt in the Seau case, unlike the Benoit case....
I don't know why Junior Seau ended his life. I do know, however, that he gave his entire life to one thing, football. When it is over -- and this I know from experience -- it's hard to explain how much you miss it. I was a teenager when I started wrestling. There aren't any independent football leagues at which retired pros can go and have fun, as I do every week. There are very limited coaching and commentating jobs in the sport. It is hard restarting your life in your 40s; trust me, I know. I have been trying to find the next phase in my life.
Some people are going to say concussions caused him to do this. I disagree. An internal sadness and despair did this.
It's just so depressing how wrestlers publicly bury their heads in the sand in order to protect the business on this issue. Though Dreamer's attempts to reach out to people with suicidal feelings was heartfelt and commendable, I wish he would have left out all the handwringing about the dangers of concussions where the weight of medical evidence is increasingly against his stance. I suppose some people will never learn.
For more on concussions in American Football please check out Irv Muchnick's blog concussioninc.net, who has been well ahead of the curve on this public health issue.