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A Jewish State
Theodor Herzl proposes a solution to the 'Jewish Question' and to anti-Semitism: a separate and independent ...
My Father's Girl
Jane Addams, whose Hull-House became a symbol of progressive reform, here remembers her father who helped ...
Paris Goes to War
As the World War engulfs Europe in August 1914, Edith Wharton reports from Paris on the ...
Lord Charnwood recounts the development and importance of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, a signal event in American ...
Darwin Changes His Mind
Here is Darwin’s account of his visit to the Galapagos Islands with its myriad species, which ...
A Grand Way to Chronicle a War
A fascinating glimpse of World War II journalism behind the front lines at Paris’s Hotel Scribe, ...
The Genius and the Jerk
Walter Vatter explores the early years of Steve Jobs--was he a genius, or simply an expert ...
Portrait of the Monster as a Young Man
Hitler’s formative years, 1889 to 1918, which reveal the sources ...
The Head in Football - Preview
The History of Concussions and the Future of the Sport
The first part of this story, at least its broad outlines, should be familiar.
On September 24, 2002, Mike Webster died from heart failure at age fifty, five years after being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The news was shocking, though not unexpected. A few weeks before his induction in Canton, Sports Center had reported that “Iron Mike,” after seventeen NFL seasons and anchoring the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offensive line during the Super Bowl years of the 1970s, was now bankrupt, homeless, depressed, and wracked by convulsions and spasms. Less serious but somehow more gruesome, when tiny cuts to his legs would spurt blood, Webster and his wife—when he still had a wife—would cover his veins with Super Glue to protect the carpet and furniture.1 A pathologist in Pittsburgh with an interest in head trauma, Dr. Bennet Omalu, did the autopsy. Webster had died of a heart attack, but after hearing about his erratic behavior Omalu wanted to examine his brain. It took him many months to puzzle out those brown stains that he found in the tissue under his microscope, but he came to realize that they were tau protein, indicating chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), or Punch-Drunk Syndrome, first identified in boxers in 1928.
For the NFL and for football at all levels, Omalu’s finding changed everything instantly, though it would take several years for this realization to sink in.
Long before Webster died, the public knew—from the occasional story about Hall of Fame running back Earl Campbell unable to get in and out of his pickup truck, or legendary quarterback John Unitas attaching his useless hand to his golf club with Velcro—that playing pro football was dangerous to long-term health.2 Surveys in the 1990s and early 2000s typically found more than 60 percent of former players with permanent injuries.3 The crippled ex-pros invariably expressed no regrets about playing and said they would unhesitatingly do it again. The benefits, less financial than personal, outweighed the costs. But these were damaged bodies, not brains, until Mike Webster’s autopsy told a different story.