By Ken Reed

Terry Frei, a writer for the Denver Post, had a powerful feature on Greg Ploetz, a former University of Texas football player, and his wife Deb, this past weekend.

Greg Ploetz is suffering from brain damage that Deb and doctors believe is a result of brain trauma from his football-playing days, although the only way to know for sure will be an autopsy when he dies.

Here’s a quick excerpt from Frei’s article:

While she and her husband, Greg Ploetz — a former Texas Longhorns standout defensive tackle diagnosed with mixed dementia and frontal lobe damage — were living in the Denver area last fall, Deb Ploetz drove past a kids football game in a park.

“I wanted so bad to go tell them, ‘Do not let your son play football,'” Deb said on the phone recently.

“It’s sad. It’s a wonderful sport, but if you lived through this, what we’ve lived through, you wouldn’t want it for your grandchild. We have a new grandbaby — he’s 16 months — and I hope to God he doesn’t play football.”

Today, monitoring Greg is a “monumental” 24/7 job, one that Deb has decided to try to take on herself, with some family help. Deb pulled Greg out of a Texas care facility because they had him drugged so heavily he was drooling.

“Brain trauma not only destroys the lives of some players, it destroys the lives of the people around them,” says Patrick Hruby, a sports and culture writer who has examined the issue of brain trauma in football extensively.

Consider the life of Deb Ploetz today and it would be hard to disagree with Hruby’s statement.

Greg’s former Texas teammate, Julius Whittier, is suffering from early onset Alzheimer’s Disease. He was named as the lead in a $50 million class-action lawsuit against the NCAA on behalf of former college football players who didn’t make the NFL but have suffered serious brain injuries.

Ann McKee is a neruopatholigist and a leading brain concussion researcher. Her advice to young football players is similar to Deb Ploetz’. When asked how she’d advise her 19-year-old son if he was offered a chance to play in the NFL, she said, “I’d say, ‘Don’t. Not if you want to have a life after football.’”

Here are a few reasons McKee might feel that way:

A study commissioned by the NFL and reported in 2009, found that the number of former NFL players between the ages 30 and 49 – 30 and 49! — that have received a diagnosis of “dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, or other memory-related disease” is 19 times the national average for that age group.

In addition, according to University of North Carolina neuroscientist Kevin Guzkiewicz, players who have suffered multiple concussions are three times more likely to suffer depression.

And the life expectancy of NFL players today is 55, according to a 2011 study by the Sport-Related Traumatic Brain Injury Research Center at the University of North Carolina.

As Frei concludes his article, “This isn’t going away. Sadly, it isn’t.”

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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