Tuesday, 20 December 2011
Gary Speed, manager of the Welsh football team, killed himself last month. He was 42 and suffering from depression. The first thing I thought was: CTE?
In a nutshell, Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy is a rare brain condition which has been found in a shocking number of American Footballers. It seems to be correlated not with huge brain trauma but with repeated sub-concussive impacts. (Thus, helmets make the game more dangerous by persuading players it's safe to suffer these impacts.) Malcolm Gladwell wrote one of the most prominent things about it in the New Yorker a while ago, but he's by no means alone.
The NFL doesn't really want to address it, but it's having to. So is ice hockey, especially in the light of shocking, and stunning, articles/videos like these, about Derek Boogaard, a guy whose job it is to enforce rough justice in the National Hockey League. Job it was, I mean. He died at 28. The story of how he was scouted, aged 15, dreaming of playing in the NHL but not really all that good at hockey, is about 5.20 into the video. It's... Well, it's at least uncomfortable.
Footballs are lighter than they were - I am sure that heading old leather ones used to cause all kinds of problems - but I'm not sure anyone's looked for CTE. Obviously no one knows about Speed specifically unless his brain is autopsied, and depression is by no means confined to people who have been injured. But it seems sensible for football to look into the overall issue, just in case. In the NFL, players are routinely saying making their brains available for study - one shot himself but not in the head because he wanted the brain to be studied. Ex-players, frankly, are best-placed to take the lead. It is certainly not something you can leave to the Blatters of this world.
(By the way, if you look up Gary Speed's death online to see who else has thought this, you find some pretty horrible and/or batty people. Conspiracoids I will not give the oxygen of linking to them answer speculation that he was gay by presenting this alternative:
The typical Illuminati execution is either car crash (air device rams steering to the side triggered by a radio device, with a detonator fixed to the petrol tank), drugs 'overdose' (easily arranged when a star is on medication or has a habit), suicide (hanging or jumping off a balcony) or heart attack. Gary was a bit young for the heart attack treatment.
Gary was getting very big, and wasn't a corrupt character. The World Cup is coming up, with big money involved. Wales was looking like making it to the last few rounds, and could have caused a sensation. Seeking an explanation somewhere around big money, power and corruption is more likely to give us an answer as to why he died, than the suggestion he was unable to face his family, if he was outed as a gay.
It goes on. It's sort of funny, in a black way, and sort of not.)