By Ken Reed
Most retired NFL players these days live with the uncertainty of not knowing how badly damaged their brains are from the repetitive blows to the head they endured during their careers.
They wonder if they are developing symptoms of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a neurodegenerative disease caused by brain trauma. They wonder if their lives will be cut short due to the disease. They wonder if episodes of forgetfulness are indications that the CTE process has already started.
Some feel lost. Others deal with anxiety and depression. For more than a few, suicidal thoughts creep into their minds.
Former Baltimore Raven Jamal Lewis is one of the ex-NFL players who has experienced multiple symptoms associated with CTE. He has also thought about suicide.
“You think about death,” the former Ravens star says.
“I’ve thought about suicide. I’ve thought about ending it all. … You just have those thoughts about should you end it?“
Lewis was recently profiled in a week-in-the-life-type feature by Tyler Dunne of Bleacher Report. Lewis’ story is at times chilling, sad and anger-inducing. What it’s especially good at is taking you out of Sunday-football-fan-mode and making you face the reality of football’s toll on the human body, especially the brain.
Lewis deals with the nagging negative thoughts in his head by keeping busy with business ventures and his kids’ activities.
“Because you never know,” Lewis says. “You never know [what] day you’re going to wake up with an issue.”
Lewis is convinced his time for being fully functional — or close to it — as a human being is limited.
“It’s not you you’re worried about,” he says.
“It’s your kids you’re worried about. It’s your family you’re worried about. You not being able to talk. You not being able to move around. … You don’t know when it’s going to hit you. You can manage but there’s only so long you can manage. At the same time, what are you going to do?”
High school, college and professional football players need to be exposed to stories like Lewis’ (and frankly others that are significantly more frightening) in order to somewhat counter the ESPN Sports Center football highlight clips and “glory days” feature stories that are ubiquitous in the fall, when football takes hold of American culture.
— Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of FansPrint
- League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.