Former NFL defensive back Dave Duerson’s suicide last week sent shockwaves through the NFL. As part of his continually excellent coverage of head injuries in football, Alan Schwarz reported that Duerson wants his brain donated to research and shot himself in the chest so that his damaged brain would still be intact. Duerson is just another in a long line of aging football players to suffer from or fear the effects of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, and people in the sport are beginning to listen.
Baseball doesn’t receive nearly the same attention for its brain injuries simply because they are far less common. In fact, when high-profile players suffer concussions, it garners far more attention than any NFL injury, and over the past few years, we’ve seen Mike Matheny and Corey Koskie retire because of head injuries. We’ve seen Jason Bay and Ryan Church felled by concussions. We see Justin Morneau still not at 100 percent eight months after he got knocked out.
Closer to home, the Yankees are dealing with their own star who has dealt with head injuries. One of the driving motivations behind Jorge Posada‘s switch to designated hitter this season is his and the team’s fear for his long-term safety. In an excellent piece in the Bergen Record this past weekend, Bob Klapisch examined Jorge’s health. The relevant parts:
As the sports world’s awareness of concussions grows, the Yankees’ medical staff is keeping closer tabs on Posada. Scouts say his reaction time, particularly on defense, has slowed in the last two to three seasons, although that may be due, in part, to his advancing age. But Posada was almost knocked out by a foul tip in a Sept. 7 game against the Orioles, returning to the dugout feeling disoriented and dizzy.
“I remember telling [former pitching coach] Dave Eiland, ‘Something’s wrong with me, I just don’t feel right,’” Posada said. “I felt like I was about to throw up, I was dizzy, everything felt weird. The next day I was still having headaches. It was scary, I have to admit.”
Although a CAT scan revealed no bleeding in the brain, the Yankees nevertheless had Posada undergo a comprehensive memory test. The computerized program, called ImPACT, was designed at the University of Pittsburgh concussion center. It runs for 15-18 minutes, measuring attention, memory, processing speed and reaction time…
Posada said the test results were “not good” after the September incident. In fact, his results were subpar in two of the three tests he took in 2010. Does this mean Posada is at risk for brain damage? No one knows for sure, but the data is troubling.
Posada is well aware of the recent studies conducted on football players and knows he has a lot to live for after his playing days are over. “I have to think about my kids. I want to enjoy growing old,” he said. “I don’t want to be sick…It’s something I’m starting to worry about, it’s something we have to keep an eye on. At my age, there’s reason for concern, especially since we know so much more about concussions. It used to be, you just shake it off, and keep going. But there’s more to it than that.”
Right now, the long-term effects of concussions in baseball are still relatively unknown, and the former players Klapisch speaks to — Joe Girardi, Butch Wynegar — seem to downplay the impact getting knocked in the face had on them. But the Yankees are right to be cautious with Jorge. Staying healthy after his career is over is far, far more important than eking out another costly season behind the plate. Knowing when to scale back isn’t a trait many baseball players have, and Jorge’s family should thank him for it.