April 27, 2010
It's a provocative question asked by Carl Prine in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review: Did repeated concussions alter Ben Roethlisberger's behavior to the point where he couldn't control himself sexually?
Roethlisberger's fragile noggin has absorbed four concussions that we know about. The Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback, twice accused of sexual assault, has been concussed three times on the field, and once in a horrendous, motorcycle vs. car collision in which he wasn't wearing a helmet.
Could that help explain why Roethlisberger's gone from loveable small-town hero to someone who's widely perceived as a dirtball? Writes Mr. Prine:
Medical experts consulted by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review refused to diagnose the root causes of Roethlisberger's pattern of self-destructive behavior. But frontal lobe brain trauma has long been known to affect mood, judgment, interpersonal relations, foresight and the inhibition that keeps most others from displaying inappropriate social behavior -- what's called "executive function" by neurologists and psychiatrists.
People who suffer repeated head injuries often exhibit signs of aggression, childishness, impaired self-control, inappropriate sexual activity and alcohol abuse, according to the National Institutes of Health.
And I think we can all agree that, at the very least, Roethlisberger's "executive function" has been out of whack.
Added forensic pathologist Cyril Wecht:
"It's conceivable to think that there is a possibility that those concussions have led to some behavioral issues. The question I pose is simple: Can someone with several chronic or repetitive head injuries later display behavior that is socially undesirable? It's certainly possible, but we won't know that unless there is a proper evaluation, then work-up and treatment plan. It would be medically negligent not to include these sorts of tests as a part of this disciplinary process."
Far-fetched as it might seem, an expert says it's possible. And I can confirm that the doctor is right, because I have seen many episodes of "House."
Now, I imagine that many of you are shaking your head, resenting the notion that anyone would be trying to find an excuse for Roethlisberger's alleged or actual behavior. I'd completely understand that position, and believe me, I have no interest in helping to make an excuse for anyone.
But at the same time, I also believe that the NFL has a serious concussion problem, and that we're not even close to having a full understanding about the long-term effects of those concussions. If an expert says that it's possible that concussions have changed Ben Roethlisberger's behavior, or even his very personality, who am I to argue?
I'm with the doctor. Make a head evaluation part of what Roethlisberger has to go through as part of his treatment and reinstatement. At the very least, it might convince him that wearing a helmet on a motorcycle is a good idea.
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