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By Ken Reed

After the Super Bowl, I wrote a short blog entry about the NFL’s “Forever Football” PR campaign. I opined that the Forever Football spots that ran during the Super Bowl game between the San Francisco 49’ers and Baltimore Ravens were nothing more than “a carefully crafted public relations campaign designed to provide a buffer against the onslaught of lawsuits and negative publicity that’s increasingly coming the NFL’s way due to a growing mound of research that connects repetitive blows to the head with short and long-term brain damage.”

Recently, Patrick Hruby, a sports and culture writer based in Washington D.C., looked at the NFL’s “Forever Football” campaign and came away with a similar perspective in a SportsonEarth.com column. According to Hruby, the NFL’s approach to brain trauma is “dishonest. Conflicted. At odds with reality. More concerned with the health and well-being of the sport than the health and well-being of the people who play it. An exercise in damage control, liability reduction and manipulating public perception, rife with revisionist history and intelligence-insulting spin.”

Right on, Mr. Hruby.

As strong as Hruby’s analytical piece for SportsonEarth was, he followed it up a few days later with a more impactful and emotional feature article on ESPN.com. Hruby’s ESPN piece looked at the life of former NFL player George Visger. It detailed Visger’s trials and tribulations the last few decades in dealing with football-induced brain injuries.

Visger won a Super Bowl ring with the San Francisco 49’ers in the early 1980’s. He was a mountain of a man at 6’5″ and 275 pounds and on top of the world. However, his reality is much different today after nine brain surgeries.

“Visger lives in Sacramento, in a trailer behind his brother’s house,” writes Hruby. “He says he’s struggling financially. He has trouble remembering things, such as what he was talking about five minutes ago. Reading a newspaper can take him all day. Reading the comics can be a chore. In a comprehensive neuropsychological evaluation, he scored above average on tests of verbal reasoning and the ability to recall information learned in school, but far below average on tests involving short-term memory, information processing speed and abstract thinking; a doctor described his overall intellectual functioning as “difficult to summarize by a single score.” Visger has been diagnosed with chronic traumatic brain injury, frontal and temporal lobe disorders, generalized seizure disorder and cognitive impairment. He believes he also suffers from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a progressive neurodegenerative disease similar to Alzheimer’s that has been linked to absorbing repeated blows to the head. Visger has a bum knee, too, and a right arm he can barely lift over his head. His kidney stones burn like hot coals. He sometimes goes four days without sleeping.”

Scary, powerful stuff.

If I was Roger Goodell, I wouldn’t want Patrick Hruby working on the “football and the brain” beat.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans

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