With the recent reports of former NFL Quarterback Erik Kramer attempting suicide, there have been many people pointing to the issue of the long term effects of head injuries in NFL players. This is throughout the news reports, social media posts, opinion columns, etc.
This makes sense. People want an explanation for things that they do not understand. Who can understand why a former NFL Quarterback would be depressed. His ex-wife describes him as being a different person from the man she married. And she, quite understandably, blames head trauma from playing football for his change of personality.
One thing that is fortunate for Erik Kramer’s ex-wife is having an easy scapegoat. Football causes brain damage. Brain damage causes depression. Therefore, football cause Erik Kramer’s depression. From a personal sense, it is fairly easy. We want answers and we want them easy. Rarely, if ever, are the answers easy.
Football players have an interesting place. Sort of a lone distinction in their background, there has now become a quick reaction. If a football player attempts suicide or experiences mental health issues then there is an instantaneous reaction to blame chronic traumatic encephalopathy. This is not to say that CTE isn’t involved ir isn’t a direct cause, but the finger pointing is a little too convenient.
Look at the case of former Steeler Terry Long, an 8 year offensive lineman for the Steelers who committed suicide in 2005. Years later, doctors examined his brain and think that CTE played a role. However, at the time of his death it was viewed merely as a successful suicide attempt for a guy that attempted suicide fifteen years earlier.
Junior Seau committed suicide in 2012. This came as a surprise to just about everybody because he did not exhibit the stereotypical signs that were expected to be shown. Subsequent reports confirmed CTE in Seau. Did it cause the suicide?
Nobody knows. One can view suicides of other notable people (Robin Williams, for example) and see that suicide has many different reasons. Famed NHL goaltender Clint Malarchuk, who is most notable for almost dying when his jugular vein was severed by a skate during a game, attempted suicide in 2008. Malarchuk had plenty of problems outside of trauma.
We don’t know why Erik Kramer did what he did. We know that his 18 year old son died a few years ago of a drug overdose. We know that he was a good enough quarterback to make a career in the NFL. What we don’t know are what psychiatric issues he’s been facing his whole life. As is seen by most other suicides of notable people, there has been a history of problems that the victims just tire of dealing with.
Whatever happened with Erik Kramer, I hope he gets help. But shoehorning his problems as brain damage from football may very well cause other problems to go undiagnosed, untreated and unresolved. And this helps nobody.