“He did what players think you’re supposed to do: Save your brain,” said Amen, a California-based physician and psychiatrist. “They have to learn there’s another way. Don’t give up on your brain while you’re alive. Try to fix it.“
NFL concussions lawsuits aim to improve the damaged brain
Amen’s research and stated mission — to rehabilitate a damaged brain — gets at the heart of class-action lawsuits filed against the NFL. A master complaint was filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia that laid out the claims of more than 2,000 former football players. In addition to personal damages, the complaint outlines the need for medical monitoring, a costly undertaking that would require the NFL to pay for medical testing and treatment for the duration of a player’s lifetime.
“Guys are scared. The Junior Seau thing kicked it into a whole other category,” said Von DuBose, one of the attorneys representing former players. “There was a lot of cynicism from folks on the outside looking in. But Junior Seau was NFL royalty. When that happened, it took that layer of cynicism off. It really got folks to thinking, wow, this is a real, real problem. This isn’t a bunch of broke, retired guys looking for a quick payday.”
Whether a brain that’s been damaged can truly be fixed is a subject still open to discussion in the scientific community. Amen, though, thinks he’s on the right track and is confident that he can take a player who’s suffered multiple concussions and improve decision-making, reasoning, depression, mood and memory. He’s worked with 117 former NFL players and says eight out of 10 have shown improvement.
“I could care less about the politics or even the lawsuits,” Amen said. “This is a brain-damaging sport. When we started our research, everyone was actively in denial. They’re changing now, and I’m excited about that. But we got to start talking about the next step: Let’s rehab their heads.”
Seau’s suicide has not been linked to head trauma, but his death last month sparked renewed discussion about head trauma in football. Nick Bell, 43, can empathize with what he thinks Seau must’ve felt.
Bell, a running back for the Los Angeles Raiders from 1991 to ‘93, began seeing Amen two years ago. He weighed 435 pounds then, battled depression and had sleep apnea and mood swings. He found himself walking into rooms and couldn’t recall why he’d entered. Even reaching out to Amen was a struggle.
“I had to fight the shame,” said Bell, “especially culturally, of seeing a psychiatrist or psychologist. It’s a real problem because a lot of guys can get help, but they can’t bring themselves to ask for it.”
Bell, who is one of the litigants suing the NFL, doesn’t know how many concussions he endured playing football, but he remembers the first. During his rookie season, he was hit so hard that he ran to the wrong team’s huddle for the next play.
“Back then, you couldn’t tell the coach you had a concussion. There was no way,” he said. “If you did, you’re on the bench and you might be losing your job.”