Chuck Noll Foundation for Brain Injury Research to Open in Pittsburgh

art-rooney-iiThis site isn’t, I trust, your first stop for breaking news, because you’re bound to be disappointed, except perhaps on April 1st, when we often carry stories no one else has. And there is a pretty good reason for that, too.

And this is scarcely a breaking news story either, because the Steelers announced it late yesterday morning. But I’m going to comment on it anyhow, because it is just one instance of the many reasons I love being a Steeler fan.

One of the things many of us are becoming increasingly uncomfortable with is the injuries players are sustaining which will perhaps profoundly affect their lives after their all-too-brief NFL career is over. The bum knees, the arm that won’t straighten out—these are doubtless both annoying and painful. Baron Batch commented that because of frequent injuries he has no cartilage in one ankle, and he is in more or less constant pain because of it.

But these things, bad as they are, pale before the specter of CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy.) It’s either the reason or a major contributor to the various ills Mike Webster suffered. He was homeless, suffering from depression, amnesia, dementia, and was addicted to pain meds at the time of his death at age 50.

The “big hits” that fans used to glory in and the NFL used to sell footage of now make most of us squirm. If the NFL goes the way of professional boxing, it will very possibly be in large part because of this issue.

So I was fascinated to learn that Chuck Noll, truly a man ahead of his time, was active during his coaching career to try to get a handle on what concussions were and what they meant. From the Steelers’ Press Release:

It was Chuck Noll who first went to the medical community seeking some answers, some empirical evidence of concussion in athletes, and now a foundation bearing his name will further the cause…

“Chuck Noll is the greatest man I ever met, and I’m grateful for the things I learned from him, on the field and off the field,” said Merril Hoge. “He was a guy who always looked outside the box. Cognitive testing came about because he thought outside the box. Always challenging people or challenging subjects – what more can we do – and that’s what this Foundation is about. Where can we get better? What things can we improve upon? How can we look outside the box to help this situation? I think he’s an appropriate namesake from all levels, and then there’s also the integrity aspect of it. That’s a significant reason for his name to be on it, because that’s also going to be one of the core principles of what we’re doing – how we handle things and the integrity with which we do it.”

In trying to come to terms with continuing to watch football while having some idea of the damage which is being done, I have been fairly disgusted with the NFL front office. When they started their “player safety initiatives” they began fining head-to-head hits, but only on certain positions. I suppose you have to start somewhere. But what really angered me was that until there was a public outcry, you could go to the NFL website and buy footage of the very hits they were fining.

But I expect better things out of the Rooneys, and with good reason, and here we have evidence of it. The task of the foundation will be to fund worthy and promising research:

The Board of the Foundation shall be assisted by a Medical Advisory Panel which shall be made up of distinguished physicians and researchers in fields related to brain injuries. The Medical Advisory Panel shall provide advice with regard to research projects or publications that are worthy of consideration for funding.

This is very exciting just in the domain of football, but there are other syndromes and disorders which also involve the tau protein, most notably Alzheimers. So it is at least conceivable that research into the treatment and possible remediation of CTE might yield fruit in other areas.

Finally, we’ll let Art II have the final say:

The Foundation that we are forming is committed to building financial support for ongoing research, with the common goal of achieving scientific progress and ultimately better care for all athletes.

Do check out the linked press release. There’s lots of interesting information in it. And a huge thank you to the Rooneys from this Steelers fan!

One comment

  • I too am glad to see the Steelers doing the right thing. I remember Ed Bouchette writing, a few years back, about how the Dr’s didn’t want to let Bubby Brister play because of a concussion, and Noll pushed back wanting to know why. Based on that, the Steelers (probably Dr. Maroon) developed the first cognitive test.

    Like you, I wonder if football will survive the CTE crisis.

    My heart very much wants it to. My head is more skeptical.

    But the only way it survives, is to do serious research.

    Right now Dr. Bennett Omalu says that better helmets are not the answer. His logic is sound. But it is also true that on the day that MIke Webster was drafted, the idea of someone reaching into their pocket, and picking up a hand held device and talking to someone around the world was pure science fiction. So was the idea of an amputee running a marathon.

    Today, both are reality…..


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