Posted by: mdegeorge | April 10, 2011

Weekly Diagnosis: April 10

In a week mastered by, well, the Masters and the first installment of 63 Yanks-Sox series, there was plenty to talk about on the health front. The world of hockey bid a pair of tearful and untimely goodbyes, while the world of football was left with plenty to think about it.

Kevin Curtis. Courtesy Creative Commons.

Some inconvenient truths for footballers

I didn’t expect the core of football to be shaken from the distant outpost that is the Winnipeg Free Press.

But Doug Brown, an 11-year veteran of the CFL with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, did just that this week by sharing some startling revelations from an annual meeting of the CFL Players Association seven years ago (seven!) that has taken on new importance in light of recent injuries.

The stats Brown shares in his column titled “Players slowly killing themselves” are alarming:

– Retired NFL players have a 37 percent higher chance of developing pre-Alzheimer’s syndrome than a male in the general population.

– Males between ages 30 and 49 have a 1 in 1000 chance of developing dementia or a similar memory-related disease; that chance rises to 1 in 53 for football players.

– Perhaps most shockingly, the average life expectancy for an NFL player has been pegged by insurance companies as low as 51 years old, compared to just short of 80 in the general population.

The revelations lead Brown to another just as startling:

I don’t have any children at the moment, but if I do end up having a son I can honestly tell you I’m not sure right now whether he should play football and whether I would even encourage him to. Though the game has changed my life in numerous beneficial ways and afforded me opportunities, exposure, and a lifestyle I have always coveted, only in the last few years have the results of studies like these been coming out and people in our game made aware of the damage we are doing to ourselves.

The column has elicited plenty of response from other players and league representatives. (It bears mention that the CFL has garnered praise in the past for a proactive concussion policy.) Brad Gagnon of The Score meanwhile has speculated that Brown’s column among other developments is proof that the sport may soon become too violent to be stomached by the public and go the way of gladiatorial contests toward extinction.

Brown has been lauded for his bravery in taking a stand and presenting facts that have rarely been so clearly elucidated. For his part though, he remains quite humble about the matter:

I never expected my column to get the reaction it has, but on the whole it is for the betterment of the game. The more attention you bring to the issue the more is done.

Two inspirations who heard the horn too early

The hockey world was saddened by a pair of deaths this week from beloved figures, both after bouts with cancer.

Monday came word that Mandi Schwartz, the former Yale hockey player who was on her third bout with leukemia stretched over some three years, passed away at age 23. The native of Regina, Saskatchewan served as an inspiration to many and became a symbol for raised bone-marrow donation awareness in her native country and the U.S. Her family announced earlier this year that she would not continue to undergo curative treatment efforts, and she was surrounded by family and her fiancé at the time of her passing.

The second death came later in the week with the passing of long-time assistant coach EJ McGuire. The man whose roots stretched from upstate New York college and minor league hockey to the Philadelphia Flyers, Ottawa Senators, NHL Central Scouting, and plenty of stops in between, was regarded as an innovator in the game for his use of stats and video technology (great profiles of him are here and here). He was warmly remembered by his colleagues in Philadelphia as an affable personality, the perfect counterpoint to the gruff Mike Keenan, who he often worked for as an assistant. Unlike Schwartz, McGuire fought his battle largely in private, surprising many when it was revealed he was in such poor health. He was 58.

Nothing like a fresh Valencia

For Manchester United, the hopes of a title aren’t hinging on the citrus content of a fresh orange; they could be directly related to the freshness of another Western hemisphere import with an ankle that just several months ago was very much unhinged.

That would be Antonio Valencia, who’s horrific ankle injury in September against Rangers on a tackle by the ironically named Kirk Broadfoot confined him to the sidelines for the better part of the Red Devils current assault on the English Premier League title.

But Valencia’s extended stay on the shelf is now playing to the advantage of Man U, which has a well-rested workhorse in the midfield at a time when others are breaking down. Valencia made his return from injury in the Prem March 19, and has since played 90 minutes in two league matches and the Champions League triumph mid-week away to Chelsea. The Ecuadoran has played a pivotal role in all three appearances, all Man U wins, registering an assist in the league win against West Ham.

Soccer is remarkable for the tendency of a side finishing the season to bear little resemblance to the one that began that term. Valencia’s sudden emergence to become a fixture in the thick of the title run at the expense of other tiring, faltering figures is part and parcel of the depth it takes to survive much less flourish in a league like the EPL.

Article of the Week: The ignorance and fear of testicular cancer

One positive of the NFL lockout is that instead of pouring over the minutiae of the day-to-day workouts like who took the biggest offseason dump or where Ben Roethlisberger bought dinner for his linemen last night, teams’ beatwriters and bloggers are forced to look more in depth for stories and freed up to do longer features pieces.

To wit, there’s this wonderful look at the stigmas and misinformation among athletes and males at large toward the problem of testicular cancer from ESPN’s AFC East blogger Tim Graham seen through the story of wide receiver Kevin Curtis.

Curtis, who had several very successful years in St. Louis and Philadelphia before briefly falling off the map only to return in 2010, suffered through the disease which primarily affects males ages 15 to 34. That also happens to be one of the more ambivalent demographics toward the notion of their own destructibility and to seeking medical attention. Curtis survived his bout and is hoping to use his story of triumph to help others toward earlier detection of this treatable condition.

Graham does an excellent takeout, exploring a number of cases of athletes who have conquered the disease and prevention efforts on disease hotspots such as college campuses. Some of the approaches are innovative to say the least, and let’s just say there’s a squirrel mascot involved (think about it). It’s a great read, and an even greater source of information and awareness.

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