Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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Sports column

January 30, 2013

Obama questions football’s safety

(Continued)

Newspapers were up in arms about the sport, so much so that the Beaumont (Texas) Express published:

“The once athletic sport has degenerated into a contest that for brutality is little better than the gladiatorial combats in the arena in ancient Rome.”

Teddy Roosevelt was president at the time, a big football fan, but a man who, like Obama today, felt action had to be taken.

The violence had hit home with him, his own son being bruised and having a nose broken during a college football game, and Roosevelt was ready to act. He pushed for radical changes, leading to a conference before the 1906 season in which the forward pass was legalized among many other changes aimed at creating safety in the game.

This is not unlike what has been going on in football today, headed in part by Dr. Julian Bailes, once head of the neurosurgery department at West Virginia University’s Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown.

Head and spinal injuries had reached the point in the game where medical people felt intervention was necessary. Former players’ deaths had shown permanent brain damage from their playing days, sometimes leading to violent deaths and suicide.

Among those involved in this and who were studied by Dr. Bailes was former WVU wide receiver Chris Henry, who went on to play for the Cincinnati Bengals and died an accidental death.

What was found was surprising to the researchers, for Henry had not had a history of serious trauma to his head yet Henry’s brain was filled with brown spots that signified CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy).

At the time, Dr. Bailes noted that changes were coming to football.

“We may have to take the head out of the game as much as we can,” Dr. Bailes said.

And changes have come in the rules, in the equipment, in the treatment and the caution shown … and this may just be the beginning now that the president has offered his position on the matter.

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