Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

The Fall of the Gladiators: Wives' Tales of Concussion Reporting and (Possible) Progressive Neurodegenerative Disease in NFL Players

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

The Fall of the Gladiators: Wives' Tales of Concussion Reporting and (Possible) Progressive Neurodegenerative Disease in NFL Players

Article excerpt

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Introduction

A 2017 study noted that 99% of National Football League (NFL) player brains autopsied showed hallmark signs of neurodegenerative disease (Mez et al., 2017). The longer their career, the higher the likelihood players suffered from some type of progressive and residual cognitive, emotional, or behavioral decline. In 2013, the NFL adopted a new concussion policy. It also settled a class action lawsuit that could pay out as much as $1 billion to former players who can prove they suffer from brain disorders related to their professional football careers (Maese, 2018). Even with a seemingly swifter public response toward concussion, including implementing protocols that mandate professional football players be evaluated by both team and independent neurological consultants following all suspected concussions, the NFL continues to receive criticism as more former players are publicly profiled as victims of progressive neurodegenerative diseases (PND) related to their football careers, including chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

Purpose of the Study

While objective scholarly research continues, there is a noticeable gap in the literature related to subjective exploration of the symptoms and behaviors associated with PND. No known studies to date have explored this phenomenon from the perspective of the victims' loved ones. This article hopes to help fill that gap by presenting an interpretive phenomenological examination of the attitudes and experiences of a group of NFL wives relative to the cognitive, emotional, and behavioral decline experienced by their playerhusbands. Such decline may or may not be related to concussion history associated with playing professional football and/or to PND, such as CTE.

This study is a continuation of a previous study by Faure and Casanova (2018) that explored the potential prevalence of undiagnosed concussion to NFL players. That study reported the observations of NFL wives related to the actual or possible concussive experiences of their spouses. More than 98% of NFL wives acknowledged having observed a commonly identified symptom of concussion that each wife contended was the result of their husband sustaining a blow to the head, neck or face, or elsewhere on the body with an impulsive force transmitted to the head (such as a hit to the upper body that caused a whiplash effect) while playing in the NFL which was either not diagnosed as a concussion or not reported to team officials. 86% were aware of instances in which their husbands continued to play despite feeling concussed. In many cases, the symptoms the men experienced were recognized by their wives as being severe. Wives reported the symptoms as lingering for weeks, months, or sometimes years. More than 70% of the women said symptoms manifested into permanent disability involving severe memory loss, irritability, depression, and emotional instability (Faure & Casanova, 2018). While the Faure and Casanova study was limited to a relatively small sample of NFL wives, its results supported previous claims that concussion in the NFL may be underreported (Meehan, Mannix O'Brien, & Collins, 2013), as may be the prevalence of lingering symptoms (and possibly PND) in retired players. To date, no other known studies investigating sports related concussion (SRC) have relied on information provided by family members of professional athletes. Our hope for the current study is to provide a holistic, descriptive account of the attitudes and experiences of those NFL wives who either have or still do live with men who exhibit symptoms commonly associated with PND.

Literature Review

Given the lack of research specifically related to the attitudes and experiences of family members of athletes who have experienced SRC and subsequent PND, this literature review will focus on (a) the mechanisms and pathophysiology of concussive injury, (b) the characteristics of progressive neurodegenerative diseases, and (c) the effect of traumatic brain injury on family members. …

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