Dr. Wendy Walsh: When parents send their athletic boys off to participate in one of America's favorite pastimes -- football practice -- the last thing they imagine is that their son's new hobby could contribute to his future suicide. But this week, the New York Times reported that a Penn State lineman who killed himself last April suffered from a trauma-induced brain disease that may have caused him to take his own life.
When Penn State's Owen Thomas
, a strapping 6'2", 240-pound college football
player, hung himself in his off-campus apartment, friends and family
were stunned. His parents consented to an autopsy -- which revealed that Thomas had been suffering from a brain disease that evidences itself by uncharacteristic sudden depression and
poor impulse control. The same disease has contributed to at least 20 suicides of active and
retired NFL players; it's believed that the instigating factor is repeated trauma to the head.
The appearance of the brain disease -- which is only caused by repeated head trauma -- in someone so young (Thomas was 21) has led researchers to consider the ramifications of tackle football
on the developing adolescent brain. Many in the world of football
are now questioning the
safety and ethics of youth ball.
Chronic traumatic encephalopathy is just one piece of the puzzle as to what may have caused Thomas to kill himself. (Per college-suicide
statistics, a host of other factors could also have contributed.) Thomas' parents said their son had never been
diagnosed with a concussion or even complained of headaches, though they
admitted that he was the type of athlete who "sucked it up" and pushed through pain.
Thomas' death is making many parents of football
players think long and hard about
whether or not contact sports
are worth the potential price.
Moms, what do you think?