Monday, May 21, 2012

An Editorial Note on CTE and Offensive Linemen

A Glimpse of CTE Litigants by Position--So Far

J. Paul Zoccali

In my October 13, 2010 post, "Media Coverage of Hidden Brain Damage Mounts," I stated that Owen Thomas, a University of Pennsylvania football player who committed suicide was an offensive lineman.  In Sports Illustrated's coverage of the death of Junior Seau, it was indicated that Thomas was a defensive end.   In a September 14, 2010 article, "Penn's Owen Thomas had CTE," ESPN referred to Thomas as...
a defensive end.  I did not use that ESPN article as a source for my post and hadn't read it at that point, not discovering it until this week.  In his New York Times article, "Suicide Reveals Signs of a Disease Seen in the NFL," which I cited directly, Alan Schwarz does not differentiate, referring to Thomas as a "lineman."  In referring to Thomas as an offensive lineman, I was going by Calib Daniloff's BU Today article, "CTE Found in Dead College Football Player," in which Daniloff referred to Thomas as an offensive lineman in his opening sentence:   
In April, University of Pennsylvania offensive lineman Owen Thomas complained to his parents that he was feeling stressed, worried that he would fail some of his college courses.
BU Today is a publication by Boston University, where Thomas was diagnosed with CTE.

In the SF Weekly article, Head Case, which my post was centered on, Peter Jamison wrote:
Researchers are learning that CTE — brain degeneration caused by repeated head trauma such as concussions — is alarmingly common among high-level former football players, particularly linemen.
I wrote:
According to various reports, the players most affected by the condition are, not surprisingly, offensive linemen who are by default subject to a disproportionately higher number of head blows over the course of a career, or just a season, than any other player position.
There are various reports on line indicating that of the many player positions in football, CTE is most common among "linemen."  My piece happened to center on a somewhat obscure story about a guard, Chris Brymer, who played very little professional football, and included a summary of the case of Mike Webster, a center whose case prompted the naming of the condition.  Thomas made it three offensive linemen with CTE or suspected of having it in my post, or at least that's what I thought.  I'd recalled hearing of at least two or three other offensive linemen diagnosed with CTE, but no defensive linemen at the time, so, I editorialized regarding head-banging by offensive linemen in particular.  Nevertheless, though a complete list of confirmed CTE diagnoses is not readily available, an internet search does indicate that more offensive linemen have been diagnosed with the condition thus far than any other position.  Major events in the CTE crisis occurring since my post, combined with the troubling nature and ramifications of the situation, make it clear that the point is incidental.  Dave Duerson and Andre Waters both committed suicide and were diagnosed with CTE.  Both played the position of safety as did Ray Easterling who also committed suicide only weeks before Seau.  At the time of his death, Easterling was one of seven players suing the NFL in the first class action concussion-related suit filed against the league, according to

Now, players of seemingly every position, including a punter or two, are party to a growing list of such suits filed against the league.  The blog, "NFL Concussion," run by recent law school graduate, Paul D. Anderson, tracks them.  In his most recent post (as of Monday, May 21st at 4:20pm, PST), Anderson writes, "There are now 80 concussion-related lawsuits filed against the NFL, which include more than 2,200 former players."  The site provides a downloadable spreadsheet naming each player.  Among those players with last names starting with A, the majority are defensive players, but linebacker, defensive back, and running back are represented nearly evenly as the most common positions in the sample.  I also noticed a few who, like Brymer, have very little professional experience.  Apparently, some players are party to more than one suit, and were thus repeated in the set.  I omitted the duplicates and 2 others whose positions I could not clearly identify.  I included the only Henry Adams I could find record of on line, a center for the 1939 Chicago Cardinals.  I counted fullbacks and running backs separately and did not count tight ends among offensive linemen.  One of the offensive linemen included was a long snapper.  Among the running backs and wide receivers, there may be a few who primarily returned kicks, but were not listed as such.  Here's the breakdown:

Defensive Back
Running Back
Defensive Line
Offensive Line  
Wide Receiver
Tight End


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