As a young athlete, Dustin Fink suffered 11 concussions while skiing and playing football and baseball. Three years ago, he began to suspect that the knocks had seriously damaged his brain. He kept getting headaches, had trouble sleeping, and started feeling depressed and emotionally unbalanced. For one awful moment, he says, he was on the verge of suicide.
Fink, the proprietor of the Concussion Blog, couldn’t help thinking that his symptoms were consistent with chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, the degenerative brain disease that has recently been linked with the suicides of several former NFL players. Fink felt this way because he’s an athletic trainer. For years, he instructed high-school football players who’d suffered concussions to sit out for 15 minutes or so, then sent them right back onto the field—a protocol that was considered sound practice until about seven years ago. Now he can’t help but wonder whether he endangered the lives of the students he was supposed to protect.
No one knows whether the suicide last month of former San Diego Chargers star Junior Seau had anything to do with the concussions he suffered throughout his career. Seau’s high-profile death, however, has lent new urgency to the question of just how dangerous football is for those who play it. It has also made a relatively new and hypothetical question a little less hypothetical: Could football’s days be numbered?