Recent Sports News Brings Increased Focus on Concussions, Alzheimer's

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • Two big sports stories grabbed my attention in relation to the brain. The first related to college athletes while the other involves one of the winningest team owners in the National Football League.

    Last night’s broad news shows were filled with the story that the NCAA has proposed a settlement in a concussion lawsuit. This type of head trauma has been found to increase the risk of developing dementia.


    The proposal includes toughening return-to-play rules for players who have received blows to the head. In addition, the NCAA is agreeing to create a $700 million fund to pay for current and former athletes to be tested to determine whether they suffered brain trauma while playing their sport.  The settlement agreement also establishes educational initiatives and sets aside $5 million in concussion research. These conditions, which are designed to settle claims in several consolidated concussion-related class action lawsuits, are still subject to the approval by Judge John Lee of the U.S. District court for the Northern District of Illinois.

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    The number of previous players who may opt for testing is staggering. Plaintiffs’ filings indicate that from 2004-2009, 29,225 student athletes suffered concussions according to NCAA figures. The settlement does not establish a cutoff date for when athletes should have played. Therefore, people who played NCAA sports and are concerned that they may have suffered a concussion decades ago that caused brain injury can have these tests and may potentially be able to follow up with claims of having sustained damage. The proposed settlement does not set aside money to compensate players who suffered brain trauma. Instead, athletes and former athletes will be forced to sue individually for damages.

    Several return-to-play guidelines are in the settlement. The proposed guidelines are primarily directed at male and female athletes who take part in football, ice hockey, soccer, basketball, wrestling, field hockey and lacrosse. These guidelines include:

    • Baseline concussion testing for the student-athletes.
    • Immediate removal of a student-athlete who is diagnosed with a concussion from the game or practice. The student-athlete must be cleared by a physician before returning to play.
    • Medical personnel who are trained in the diagnosis, treatment and management of concussions must be present at all games and available during all practices.
    • The NCAA will establish a process for schools to report diagnosed concussions and their resolution.

    In the second piece of news, Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen, 70, has resigned control of the team because he has Alzheimer’s disease. Bowlen originally described having short-term memory loss in 2009, but had not previously announced that he had any form of dementia. Bowlen’s health had been a source of speculation with some knowledgeable sources reporting in 2010 that the owner was no longer the team’s major decision maker on key subjects. His mother died after a lengthy battle with Alzheimer’s in 2006.

  • “As many in the Denver community and around the National Football League have speculated, my husband, Pat, has very bravely and quietly battled Alzheimer’s disease for the last few years,” said Annabel Bowlen, his wife, said in a statement on the Denver Broncos’ website. “He has elected to keep his condition private because he has strongly believed, and often said, ‘It’s not about me.’ Pat has always wanted the focus to be solely on the Denver Broncos and the great fans who have supported this team with such passion during his 30 years as owner. My family is deeply saddened that Pat’s health no longer allows him to oversee the Broncos, which has led to this public acknowledgment of such a personal health condition.”

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    I see a silver lining in this sad news about Bowlen. While I couldn’t find any information that he actually played football or another sport where he could have suffered a concussion, the Denver Broncos owner provides a very visible example to football players across the league of the sad and slow decline that comes with Alzheimer’s. Hopefully, they will pay attention.

    And as to the NCAA proposed settlement, I’m glad that sports officials are starting to get serious about protecting athletes’ brain health. It’s about time!

    Primary Sources for This Sharepost:

    Denver Broncos. (2014). Statements on owner Pat Bowlen.

    Klis, M. (2014). Pat Bowlen resigns control of Denver Broncos, acknowledges he is dealing with Alzheimer’s disease. The Denver Post.

    NCAA. (2014). NCAA reaches proposed settlement in concussion lawsuit.

    Prendergast, A. (2010). Sources: Pat Bowlen no longer Broncos’ major decision maker amid ‘memory loss’ questions. Denver Westword.

    Tarm, M. (2014). Deal reached in concussion lawsuit. Houston Chronicle.

Published On: July 30, 2014