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Michael Phelan
Michael Phelan
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Former Cowboys Star’s Condition Highlights the Dangers of Concussions

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I can remember watching N.F.L. Hall of Famer Rayfield “Big Cat” Wright in the 1970s and being in awe of his size and skill.  Back then, an offensive lineman standing 6 feet 7 inches and weighing  255 pounds seemed big.  Mr. Wright was featured in a January 26, 2014 New York Times article about the lawsuit against the N.F.L. by over 4,500 former players who have sued the league contending that it concealed from them what it knew about the dangers of repeated hits to the head.

The story begins with Mr. Wright recounting a head slap he received in 1969 from Rams’ defensive end, Deacon Jones.  Mr. Wright states that the head slap knocked him out, and that he awakened to “see a galaxy of stars as he lay on the turf, unable to move.”  The next time a defense expert in a civil case involving a traumatic brain injury opines that a rear-end automobile collision cannot generate enough force to cause a concussion, remember Mr. Wright’s story.  A hand slap to the helmet knocked him out.

Wright, who played in more than 180 regular-season and playoff games from 1967 to 1979, said he incurred concussion after concussion, “so many that I couldn’t even count them.”  Sadly, Mr. Wright now suffers from dementia.  He says that the effects of his football-related brain trauma includes headaches, seizures, memory problems, dizziness, depression, and wild mood swings.  The Big Cat was a Cowboys captain.  He retired at the young age of 34 “partly because of his growing inability to understand the team’s plays.”  His caregiver told the interviewer that Mr. Wright cannot be left alone in his own home.

Another myth one sometimes hears from experts hired by the defense in traumatic brain injury cases is that the symptoms are always “worst at first.”  Common sense tells us that this is not true, even in a case involving a single brain trauma as opposed to the repeated traumas suffered by Rayfield Wright.  For example, a person in a high impact crash may be sore all over for days or weeks.  This person may be bedridden for a portion of that time and out of work for an even longer period of time.  It is often not until the person tries to return to work and has to exercise more cognitive function than that required to lay in bed that problems with thinking, concentrating, comprehension, attention span, memory, and mood swings manifest themselves.

The bottom line is that the brain is damaged when it is concussed from being shaken- even when protected by an expensive football helmet.  Brain trauma is never a good thing.  Thanks, among other scientific research, to the important studies of the brains of  former N.F.L. players, the consensus among scientists is that mild traumatic brain injury or concussion can cause long-term symptoms.