In 2006, Former Eagles and Cardinals safety Andre Waters committed suicide with a gunshot to the head and doctors found that his depression was a result of his history of concussions. Only 44, Waters’ brain had degenerated to that of an old man.
Dr. Bennet Omalu at the University of Pittsburgh is a leading expert in forensic pathology. Because he was in Pittsburgh and was an expert in the field, he had been asked to examine the brains of former Pittsburgh Steelers players who had post-concussion brain dysfunction. He was sent samples of Waters’ brain tissue to examine it for signs of damage. Shockingly, he discover that the Waters’ brain had degenerated to that of an 85-year-old man and had signs of Alzheimer’s. Omalu believed that the damage was caused in large part by successive concussions Waters’ received while playing football.
Dr. Omalu also linked recent research that suggested brain damage and concussions could lead to depression. It was his opinion that the severe brain damage caused the depression which led Waters to kill himself.
Media Covers Concussions
Before this, concussions and the dangers of long-term damage and post-concussion syndrome had gotten very little media attention, but the New York Times ran a feature article about Andre Waters and Dr. Omalu’s findings. The Times also discussed the NFL’s lack of action on the issue.
Football’s machismo has long euphemized concussions as bell-ringers or dings, but what also alarmed Mr. Nowinski, 28, was that studies conducted by the N.F.L. on the effects of concussions in players “went against just about every study on sports concussions published in the last 20 years.”
Studies of more than 2,500 former N.F.L. players by the Center for the Study of Retired Athletes, based at the University of North Carolina, found that cognitive impairment, Alzheimer’s-like symptoms and depression rose proportionately with the number of concussions they had sustained. That information, combined with the revelations that Mr. Webster and Mr. Long suffered from mental impairment before their deaths, compelled Mr. Nowinski to promote awareness of brain trauma’s latent effects.
Though there was ample research and the International Symposium on Concussion in Sports had made different recommendations, players were still being sent in to play in games in which they’d received concussions. This tragedy led to significant public pressure on the NFL to be more vigilant about concussions.