Sports Writer Frank Deford Offers His Analysis Of Cincinnati Bengal Chris Henry’s Brain Damage


Posted on 7th July 2010 by Gordon Johnson in Uncategorized

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Veteran sports writer Frank Deford takes up the story of Chris Henry, the deceased Cincinnati Bengal player who was found to have sustained brain damage, in a story for NPR Wednesday.

Deford poses an interesting question: Are some athletes more susceptible to brain damage than others?

And he talks about efforts to find a way to determine if someone has a predisposition to brain damage.

I’ve written in-depth about the significance of Henry’s case, and Deford goes over it as well. Henry died several months ago after falling off the back of a pick-up truck. Apart from the injury from his fall, an autopsy determined that Henry  had CTE, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, which is essentially brain trauma.

Right now CTE can only be positively diagnosed by an autopsy, “in the brain tissue of cadavers,” as Deford puts it. So far 22 deceased ex-National Football League players have been found to have suffered from CTE,  he notes.

Henry’s case is a landmark because his death occurred while he was still in the prime of his career (had he not had all of the behavioral issues) and he never even sustained any documented concussions.

Deford writes about efforts to find a test that will detect CTE in the brains of the living. Lisa McHale, the widow of deceased NFL player Tom McHale, and McHale’s friend Jim Joyce are pushing for that.

McHale, suffering from depression and self-medicating with drugs, died of an overdose when he was just 45. His widow  Lisa blames his problems on brain damage he sustained while playing pro ball.

Joyce, himself an ex-player, is chairman of Aethlon Medical in San Diego. Joyce is doing research to determine if there are biomarkers that could be used to find those with a predisposition to CTE, according to Deford.

The question is asked could such a test convince parents to steer their kids away from sports like football and soccer if in fact they do have a predisposition to CTE.

The concern I have as I hear the chorus about CTE from more and more voices is that they seem to confuse the issue.  The issue is not whether there is an after death marker of brain injury, CTE, but whether there has been brain injury.  We can’t find a test for CTE because it is a particular thing that is only found on autopsy.  While we can’t find a litmus test for brain injury, experienced doctors can make the diagnosis with the proper consideration of all of the medical evidence, including the story of the life of the injured person.

Chris Henry’s life told such a story.  The tragedy is that no one ever listened to it in context that he was an athlete, playing a violent game.