Can The NFL's Off-The-Field Violence Problem Be A Symptom Of Widespread PTSD?
Domestic violence -- whether directed at spouses or children -- is currently bigger football news than Week 3's Super Bowl rematch between the Broncos and the Seahawks, which is saying something. That's because abuse has become the NFL's calling card over the last two weeks, as it becomes apparent there is a systemic problem. Case in point: The recent string of players getting caught hitting those not wearing pads and helmets.
But first, let's get this out of the way: It is a fact that NFL players are disproportionately arrested for domestic violence, relative to the other crimes they commit.
Sure, there's the sheer likelihood that 32 teams comprised of 53 players each means you'll inevitably have a few psychos beating on their loved ones, but that doesn't entirely explain why 11 players have been arrested for domestic violence in the last year -- even if that is below the national average. These guys are anything but average. Financially secure, adored by everyone, and by most measures, living out their dreams -- NFL players should not be so damn angry at their wives/girlfriends.
Fivethirtyeight cites the occurrence of domestic violence incidence among all households with incomes over $75,000 to be 3.3 per 100,000 (well below the national average). NFL players, on the other hand, are arrested for domestic violence at an astonishingly higher rate.
It's easy to explain this disproportionate occurrence as the simple reality that people who've chosen to play a violent game as a career have similarly violent tendencies in their home lives. But that seems too simple. Football players are, by and large, creatures of habit. Success in their sport -- as typified by the impeccably disciplined route running of its greatest player, Jerry Rice -- is usually contingent on a player's ability to follow directions. To color inside the lines. To control themselves. Bill Belichick would call it "doing your job." As violent as NFL players are on the field, they're also really really good at following the rules there, too. Why can't they seem to do that in their personal relationships?
Could it have something to do with concussions? Could it have something to do with PCS (Post Concussion Syndrome)? Could it even be PTSD? Could NFL players' disproportionate tendency towards domestic violence be a symptom of traumatic brain injury and subsequent chemical imbalance?
All three have been correlated...
[Medical News Today] Researchers assessed patients at an emergency department in France to find out whether symptoms lasting 3 months after an injury to the head were specifically related to concussion or whether they could be better classified as PTSD.
In total, the prospective cohort study included 534 patients with head injury and 827 control patients without a head injury, who visited the University Hospital of Bordeaux between December 2007 and February 2009.
Results show that 3 months after the injury, 21.2% of patients with a head injury met the diagnosis of PCS, and 8.8% met the criteria for PTSD. By comparison, 16.3% of patients without a head injury met the diagnosis of PCS, and only 2.2% met the criteria for PTSD.
If players are, in fact, experiencing PTSD/PCS from "getting their bell rung" as the outdated saying goes, we could be seeing the widespread effects in the cases of Jonathan Dwyer and Ray Rice and Greg Hardy and Ray McDonald and Quincy Enunwa. The increased irritability, the angry outbursts, the aggressive behavior -- these are all symptoms of traumatic head injury. In fact, the Mayo Clinic even lists "difficulty maintaining close relationships" as a symptom of PTSD, as well as "feeling emotionally numb."
Have you seen Ray Rice's reaction to knocking out his finacée Janay? Ya, we'd call that emotionally numb.
We're not experts on criminal pathology or brain chemistry -- but we're not buying the whole "Football players are warriors and fightin' is what they do" argument. Something is making these athletes behave more violently than they should and it needs to be addressed systemically at some point. Because while punishments and suspensions and fines and jail time may deter some, logic dictates that guys who snap aren't thinking about the consequences.
Someone needs to figure out how to spot and help them before it's too late.
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