What price do you pay to be a professional football player?
Initially we thought it was the price of creaky, lingering musculoskeletal injuries suffered during old age.
But it's so much more.
We are witnessing one former player after another committing suicide. The reports about Junior Seau are just the latest. Players are suffering from dementia, neurodegenerative disorders, post-concussive syndrome, mental health disorders and substance abuse disorders. Many current players and former players are suffering from head and body trauma from their playing days in the NFL. And many also suffer from the mental health symptoms associated with those blows in addition to the emotional stressors of not being prepared to deal with life after giving up the game.
Many people aren't aware that concussions and head trauma make you more vulnerable to dementia, brain disorders and mental health disorders during and after the blow to the head.
The professional icons we put on a pedestal during their playing days are paying the price later.
I have worked with many former NFL players and some are really suffering; symptoms such as memory loss, recurrent headaches, bouts of confusion, dizziness, rage, uncontrolled anger, domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse and problems with impulse control... the list goes on and on. And we're not just talking about current players, we're talking about men who haven't played the game for years or even decades.
The Junior Seau tragedy is so very sad. But I'm afraid it won't be the last. Until something is done to protect a player's brain from trauma (that means rule changes and suspensions), many won't be equipped to handle life after they leave the game. And a mental health evaluation should be mandatory when leaving the game to see who may need mental health, neurological treatment or further medical care.
I love the NFL but..
"Game over" should not mean "Life Over." Let's protect the players.
Dr Reef Karim
Psychiatrist, Relationship Expert
Director: The Control Center