NFL head injuries prompt fines, brain concerns
October 20th, 2010
12:51 PM ET

NFL head injuries prompt fines, brain concerns

The National Football League has fined three players $50,000 to $75,000 for violent helmet-to-helmet hits - which have been known to be devastating for players.

The league has been criticized for being too lax with head blows and the league's new medical committee members earlier this year  vowed to change that culture.

After several players were injured Sunday in what some fans and observers perceived as a particularly violent weekend of football, the NFL pledged on Tuesday to be more vigilant about ejecting and/or suspending players who have made flagrant hits.

The problem is by no means confined to the professional ranks. On Saturday, Rutgers defensive end Eric LeGrand was paralyzed from the neck down after his tackle on an Army player during a kickoff return.

Besides concussions, the concern is that the jarring blows to the head might accumulate damage to the brain without showing any symptoms.  Autopsies of football players have found a brain condition called chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE.  This can cause neurobehavioral disorders and bizarre behavior.

Former NFL players who took poundings to their heads from Pop Warner to the pros, like former San Francisco 49ers lineman George Visger has lived by scrawling the minutiae of his daily life on hundreds of small yellow notebooks, reminding himself when he left the house, when he got coffee.  His is one of several cases of ex-NFL athletes struggling with memory loss, depression and sudden, frightening bouts of rage.

"I get up in the morning and I have no clue what I have to do that day. If it's not written down it doesn't exist," Visger told CNN earlier this year.

The effects of the concussions can start early.  CNN.com: Concussions extra dangerous to teen brains.

The neurobehavioral symptoms of the brain damage are complex. In September, a 21-year-old football player who committed suicide was found to have CTE.  And in July,  it was announced that a former Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver had played in the NFL while having this type of brain damage.  Chris Henry died in December 2009 after falling from the bed of a moving pickup during a fight with his fiancée. His death was considered a tragic and bizarre end to a life plagued by behavioral problems.

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