Posted by Adam Jacobi
Earlier today, we questioned the sanity of allowing Houston QB Case Keenum to return to action for the Cougars after sustaining a concussion during play on the previous Friday. And while we can try to conjure as many different synonyms for "reckless" as possible to describe the situation, it's really not as likely to resonate as an argument without a tangible example of the dangers involved.
Unfortunately, new details about those exact dangers emerged just today, as the New York Times reported that Penn student Owen Thomas, the former lineman and captain of the Quakers who hanged himself at the age of 21, was found to be suffering from the same type of degenerative brain disease that has recently been associated with long football careers. The disease, Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (or C.T.E.), can cause a host of serious mental problems in those afflicted with it, including substance abuse, suicidal depression, and symptoms similar to Alzheimer's and Lou Gehrig's Disease. Most notably, it was also found in an autopsy of Chris Henry, the former Cincinnati Bengals and West Virginia Mountaineers wide receiver who died after falling out of his fiancee's truck in a bizarre incident last year.
The most harrowing aspect of the revelations about Henry and Thomas is that neither man was ever diagnosed with a concussion, and neither had an extensive football career past middle school. Henry played one of the least contact-intensive positions in the sport, and while Thomas was on the other end of that spectrum, he was also only a 21-year-old junior when he began the mental collapse that ended in his apartment months later.
Worse, as of last year, 20 deceased football players had been tested for CTE--some who had exhibited no symptoms whatsoever--upon autopsy. 19 tested positive. Thus, considering Thomas' history in the sport and his subsequent quick descent into suicidal depression, it would have been far more surprising if the 21-year-old Thomas hadn't had CTE. That should be frightening for every single fan of the sport of football--and even moreso for parents of young football players.
And yet Houston coach Kevin Sumlin won't give Keenum a week off after Keenum's concussion. Just something to think about.