Reading of Tony Dorsett's brain diagnosis in Thursday's morning links here at Blogging The Boys was a tough moment for me, as I am sure it was for many Cowboys fans. Let's face it, TD was our version of Superman, and it is hard to imagine anything having the ability to defeat one of the team's legends. Sadly, a career in professional football could turn into kryptonite for the Hall of Fame running back. As has been stated in various media outlets, Tony Dorsett has been diagnosed as showing signs of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). In order to have a better understanding of what many of our former football greats are facing, I turned to the researchers at Boston University, one of the research institutions that is taking the lead in studying the effects of head trauma on the human brain.
Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) is a progressive degenerative disease of the brain found in athletes (and others) with a history of repetitive brain trauma, including symptomatic concussions as well as asymptomatic subconcussive hits to the head. CTE has been known to affect boxers since the 1920s. However, recent reports have been published of neuropathologically confirmed CTE in retired professional football players and other athletes who have a history of repetitive brain trauma. This trauma triggers progressive degeneration of the brain tissue, including the build-up of an abnormal protein called tau. These changes in the brain can begin months, years, or even decades after the last brain trauma or end of active athletic involvement. The brain degeneration is associated with memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, impulse control problems, aggression, depression, and, eventually, progressive dementia.
Let's compare this with the symptoms that Dorsett has reported. Speaking with ESPN's Outside The Lines the former Dallas and University of Pittsburgh great has reported dealing with ongoing memory loss and an unusual lack of motivation. In addition he has admitted to suffering bouts of depression. It was also reported that Tony may have given his family a reason to fear him, although he later told NBC DFW that was an inaccurate statement. In clarifying the misconception, he stated that it was a case of his family fearing for his health, and not them fearing him.
They're thinking my kids and family are running and hiding in closets, trying to stay away from me, and [that is] the furthest thing from the truth that there is." - Tony Dorsett
The diagnosis of Dorsett, along with offensive lineman Joe DeLamielleure, defensive lineman Leonard Marshall and another unidentified player, are the first instances where researchers have found build-up of the tau protein in a living player. While there is no known cure for CTE, there are ways that doctors can treat the underlying cause and perhaps even reverse some of the effects on the victim. By finding the tau protein in some living players, researchers hope that they can develop solid treatment protocols that might help players in the future.
Don’t ask me what tau protein is because I don’t know exactly what it all is, All I know is that before, [doctors] could only be able to find tau if you die first and they open up your brains. It’s enlightening to know what I have, what I’m dealing with. Now it’s time to find out, how can we can come back from it? I actually was told [by researchers] that it can be reversed. I was like, ‘What?’ They said, ‘Yeah, it can be reversed, slowed down, stopped.’ I’m like, ‘Oh, OK, so we need to get on out of here and get on that program immediately." - Tony Dorsett
TD made it very clear in his discussion with NBC DFW that he is more than happy to do whatever he can to promote awareness and research into CTE, but that he was not the type of person who would be flying around the country making speeches about his condition. For starters, he wants to make young players aware of the long-term conditions associated with head injuries and to insure that they take concussions seriously. From experience Dorsett knows that the coaches often put the here and now ahead of the player's best interests.
"I knew something was going on. It takes me back to the fact that we [as players] were treated [after head injuries] and still put back out there in harm’s way, when from my understanding management knew what they were doing to us. They were still subjecting us to that kind of physical abuse without the proper treatment. It really hurts. My quality of life [long pause] deteriorates a little bit just about every day." - Tony Dorsett
The former Heisman Trophy winner also went on record as saying he has no regrets. He enjoyed being Tony Dorsett and that he is thankful for all that football has given to him. Asked if, knowing then what he knows now, would he do it all over again; TD stated that he would but added "I would just be a little more careful about the injuries I was attaining and receiving."
In closing, Dorsett spoke about what lies ahead for him. Doctors at UCLA have taken a proactive approach trying to fulfill their claim to him that they could reverse some of the effects of his disease. For starters he has already been placed on a strict vitamin and nutrition regimen. Tony knows that he is not just in the fight of his life; it is a fight for his life.
"I’m trying to cut it off at the pass, slow it down, do whatever I can to fight this thing. But it’s tough, man, it’s frustrating as hell at times, but I’m determined to beat this."