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Middle linebacker, Ted Johnson, was the captain of the New England Patriots in 1998 and 2003, and helped the Pats win three Super Bowls before retiring in 2005. According to a story in the New York Times, Mr. Johnson now

forgets people’s names, misses appointments and…can become so terrified of the outside world that he locks himself alone inside his Boston apartment in bed with the blinds drawn for days at a time.

Mr. Johnson told the Times,

“There’s something wrong with me. There’s something wrong with my brain. And I know when it started.”

Ted Johnson’s brain injury started in August 2002 when he suffered a concussion in a preseason game against the Giants. He now believes that Pat’s Coach Bill Belichick went against the team trainer’s medical advice and rushed Mr. Johnson back into full contact practice drills. Johnson sustained another concussion two days later and suffered more concussions over the next three seasons, each of them exacerbating the previous brain injury.

Mr. Johnson’s neurologist, Robert Cantu, M.D., said he was convinced Johnson’s cognitive impairment and depression “are related to his previous head injuries, as they are all classic postconcussive symptoms,” and that “they are most likely permanent.” In fact, Dr. Cantu said: “Ted already shows the mild cognitive impairment that is characteristic of early Alzheimer’s disease [which]…relentlessly progress over time…[such that when] he’s in his 50’s, he could have severe Alzheimer’s symptoms.”

Mr. Johnson’s brain injuries have not only caused him to suffer depression, loss of memory, and diminished cognitive abilities, but have also ruined his marriage. He has a two year old and one year old child, and he and his wife are getting divorced. Mr. Johnson attributes the decline of his marriage to the behavior caused by his concussive symptoms and resulting addiction to anti-depressants. Mr. Johnson decided to go public with his story when he read about Andre Waters, the former NFL star who committed suicide last November and was later found by a forensic pathologist to have had significant brain injury caused by concussions suffered during his career with the Eagles. I blogged about Mr. Waters’s tragic case earlier this month. The NFL needs a strong director of the NFL Players Association and Gene Upshaw is not that man. The coaches are making too much money and are under too much pressure to win to be trusted to put a player’s health first. The Players Association must step up and do what is necessary to prevent more cases like Ted Johnson’s, Andre Waters’s, and Mike Webster’s, and to ensure that the league provides the brain injury rehabilitative services that these players need. Right now, the league is clearly turning its back on the players.

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