Health study puts pressure on NFL

September 30, 2009 The league says more studies need to done. But it acknowledges the findings are significant for everyone who plays football at any level.

The findings dovetail with several previous studies over the last 20 years that have shown playing professional football puts people in danger of major cognitive injury including dementia. It's a link the NFL has steadfastly denied. But the stories of memory loss, depression and poor quality of life have long been associated with many former players. And this study puts pressure on the league -- and the broader football community -- to do more about it.

An icon of all that is tough, tested and triumphant about football welcomes an NFL-authored study is finally saying smash-mouth football plays havoc with the head. And he doesn't like the league not fully embracing the results.

"Don't tell me you are running another study withanother doctor that won't have conclusive evidence for two years. That is beating around the bush, that is passing the buck. You don't do that, you got to step up to the plate and say OK, we got some problems in this area," said Mike Ditka, former Bears coach.

Ditka works with Ken Valdiserri's charity, Gridiron Greats, to help destitute former players whose number one complaint is memory loss and cognition problems.

"They have that look in their eye that you can ascertain that something isn't right," said Valdiserri. "Flummoxed is a good word."

The University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research surveyed 1,063 retired players who played at least three seasons and found large numbers them are having memory-related problems at younger ages than in the general population. By the time they reach age 50, they're five times more likely to suffer such ailments than the rest of us.

"The velocity and speed of the game right now is immense and I think we just have to keep that in mind that in the end it is human beings and not automatons or robots that are having this experience happen to them," said Dr. Raj Shah, Rush Medical Center Memory Clinic.

The doctor says that NFL players have a range of factors that might be playing into the findings -- such as painkiller intake -- that need to be studied separately. Still, the NFL's report is the furthest the league has ventured in looking at the impact these impacts really have.

"I will do everything on my part to get this rectified. It's definitely a problem. And something that we all need to take seriously," said Anthony Adams, Chicago Bears.

"It's something that we choose to do. And hopefully that the NFL is trying to do everything it can do to lower some of those health risks," said Desmond Clark, Chicago Bears.

In a statement, an NFL spokesperson said the methodology of the study was suspect because the information from the former players was reported through telephone interviews. The league is committed to more studies.

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