EXCLUSIVE: NFL legend Brett Favre would rather be remembered for ENDING youth tackle football than his Hall of Fame career if it means saving kids from the head traumas he endured for decades
EXCLUSIVE: NFL legend Brett Favre would rather be remembered for ENDING youth tackle football than his Hall of Fame career if it means saving kids from the head traumas he endured for decades
- After suffering what he estimates to be thousands of concussions during his 20 NFL seasons, Favre is now an outspoken critic of youth tackle football
- Favre, NFL legend Kurt Warner, and former US soccer star Abby Wambach have been raising awareness about the dangers of head trauma in youth sports
- The three serve as spokespeople for Prevacus, a prescription drug currently in its testing phase that was designed to treat the long-term effects of concussions
- After laughing about head injuries as a player, Favre now supports efforts such as the Dave Duerson Act, a proposed bill to ban tackle football in Illinois
- Favre is hoping a similar law can be made at the national level, because, ‘The body, the brain, the skull is not developed in your teens and single digits’
- Researchers found that among 211 players who were diagnosed with CTE, those who started before 12 suffered a significantly earlier onset of symptoms
Retirement agrees with Brett Favre.
He doesn’t regret the 20 years he spent playing professional football, but living in his native Mississippi, hunting with friends, and taking his grandson to guitar practice are proving to be a delightful substitutes for the daily grind of an NFL season.
‘Mentally, I was tired of meetings, I was tired of everything,’ he told the Daily Mail. ‘No I don’t [miss it].’
Even after winning a Super Bowl ring and three NFL MVP awards as a member of the Green Bay Packers, the 48-year-old Hall of Fame quarterback isn’t searching for ways to cling to the sport that made him a household name. He’s not becoming a coach and the rumors of Favre’s move to the broadcast booth are already dying down.
His immense impact on the game would appear complete, but for one last thing: Brett Favre is going to end youth tackle football in America.
‘I think it’s going to take someone who has poured his blood, sweat and tears into it,’ Favre said.
Favre has given more than plasma, though.
He may have sacrificed his brain for football, and now, after what he estimates are ‘thousands’ of concussions, Favre’s personal mission is saving children from a lifetime of health issues connected to one of the country’s most indelible pastimes.
He is, unfortunately, an undeniable expert on the subject.
After suffering what he estimates to be ‘thousands’ of concussions in 20 seasons as an NFL quarterback, Brett Favre is now perfectly happy to spend his time reading with his grandson A.J. (right). Favre wants his grandchildren to golf and pursue music rather than football
It’s hard to believe, but Favre says he won’t encourage his three grandsons to play football
He’ll always be remembered as a Hall of Famer, but Favre said he would be happy to be known as the man who ended youth tackle football in America because of the dangers it poses to young players’ growing bodies
That’s why Favre and other retired athletes such as former NFL quarterback Kurt Warner and U.S. women’s soccer star Abby Wambach have spent recent months raising awareness of the dangers of head injuries as spokespeople for Prevacus, a prescription drug currently in its testing phase that was designed to treat the long-term effects of concussions. (All three are also investors)
As a member of the Minnesota Vikings in 2010, Favre’s career came to an end when he was knocked out in a game against the Chicago Bears. After stumbling to his feet, the befuddled Favre asked a member of the training staff, ‘What are the Bears doing here?’
That would be bad enough by itself, but the violent head injury Favre suffered was simply the last incident in over three decades of abuse, some of which was self-inflicted.
‘You would never come out of the game for a concussion because nobody thought concussions were that bad,’ said Favre. ‘It was a matter of toughness. You didn’t come out of a game because you were dinged, you saw stars, or fireworks are flashing – which are all results of a concussion, as we know now. Ear ringing, kind of like the dinner bell dining – “time to come eat” – that should be a wake-up call: You just suffered a severe brain injury.’
Brett Favre’s career ended after being knocked out in a game against the Chicago Bears.
At the time, though, the signs of acute head trauma were less a cause for concern and more of a source of laughter.
When former coach Mike Sherman brought in boxing legend Joe Frazier to speak with the Packers, the punch-drunk former heavyweight champion’s slurred, incoherent ramblings sent everyone into hysterics.
WHAT IS CTE?
Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is a degenerative brain disease that is caused by repeated hits to the head.
Over time, these hard impacts result in confusion, depression and eventually dementia.
There has been several retired football players who have come forward with brain diseases.
They are attributing their condition to playing football and the hits they took.
More than 1,800 former athletes and military veterans have pledged to donate their brains to the Concussion Legacy Foundation for CTE research.
CTE was usually associated with boxing before former NFL players began revealing their conditions.
Several notable players who have committed suicide were posthumously diagnosed with the disease, such as Junior Seau and Aaron Hernandez.
‘I’m telling you, we laughed. I was like, “What in the hell is he talking about?” Favre said of the now-deceased Frazier.
Favre is not laughing now.
Instead he’s discouraging his own grandsons from stepping on the gridiron (he hopes they take up golf) at a time when youth football participation is already trending downward over fears of the neurodegenerative disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).
Those fears are not unfounded.
In April, researchers at VA Boston Healthcare System and Boston University School of Medicine found that among 211 players who were posthumously diagnosed with CTE, those who began playing tackle football before the age of 12 suffered an earlier onset of symptoms (typically cognitive, behavior, and mood issues) by an average of 13 years.
Unsurprisingly, participation in youth tackle football (ages 6 to 17) dropped 19 percent between 2011 and 2016, according to Aspen Institute data from the Sports & Fitness Industry Association.
‘I think the reason for that is that parents are steering their kids away from tackle football to something a little bit safer,’ Favre said.
He’s also supporting efforts like a proposed Illinois bill forbidding anyone under 12 from playing tackle football. The Dave Duerson Act to Prevent CTE – named after the former Chicago Bears safety who committed suicide after a lengthy battle with the disease – does not yet have enough support to pass in Illinois.
Still, Favre thinks similar legislation is needed at the federal level.
‘The state level is a start, but we have to adopt this plan and all do it together,’ he said. ‘The body, the brain, the skull is not developed in your teens and single digits. I cringe. I see these little kids get tackled and the helmet is bigger than everything else on the kid combined. They look like they’re going to break in half.’
Playing youth tackle football, researchers have found, makes athletes more likely to suffer the long-term effects of concussions at a significantly earlier age
Joe Frazier (left, taking a punch from Muhammad Ali) had significant speaking issues at the end of his life. According to Favre, the punch-drunk former heavyweight champ’s slurred, incoherent ramblings sent he and his teammates into hysterics when he addressed the Packers. Now, Favre recognizes Frazier’s problems as the long-term effects of head trauma
Former Chicago Bears safety Dave Duerson died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. His brain was sent to researchers at Boston University, where he was posthumously diagnosed with CTE
Although he does not hold the NFL responsible for any of his own medical issues, Favre is taking aim at football’s macho culture.
Whereas President Donald Trump claimed in September that the NFL’s new rules aimed at preventing head injuries are ‘ruining the game,’ Favre – the NFL’s famed ironman, started a record 321 straight games – emphatically disagrees.
‘The President can say what he wants,’ said Favre. ‘It is a serious issue and it needs to be dealt with.’
The legal battle and the effort to prevent head injuries are only pieces of the puzzle.
The reality is that concussions will occur no matter how many safety precautions are taken. That’s why there is such a dire need for treatments such as Prevacus, a nasal inhaler designed to deliver steroids to the brain immediately after a possible concussion.
The drug is still in its testing phase, but the claim is that it is so safe, it can be administered to anyone suspected of suffering a traumatic brain injury as a way to reduce the inflammation, oxidative stress and cell death that experts believe lead to long-term issues like dementia and CTE.
So even if the protocols adopted by leagues like the NFL and NHL struggle to definitively diagnose a concussion, players could still receive the 14-day treatment in hopes of avoiding the long-term effects.
Because Prevacus is so small, its makers are hoping that trainers and coaches could keep it on hand in case anyone suffers a suspected head injury. The drug, which is currently in its testing phase, could even be kept in a home first-aid kit to help children avoid the long-term effects of concussions. The projected price is $300 for a 14-day treatment
The NFL concussion protocol was instituted to address the issues of head trauma. Players are not allowed to return to the field without being cleared by a trained professional. However, since concussions can be difficult to diagnose in the immediate aftermath of a collision, there is the potential for concussed players to return to the field
Prevacus does not offer any solutions for Favre, who admittedly suffers from significant memory issues, but the hope is that it can play a significant factor for young athletes going forward.
‘This drug is specifically aimed at controlling the effects of an acute concussion in that first two weeks,’ said the drug’s creator, Dr. Jake VanLandingham. ‘As a result of that, it will prevent CTE from ever happening, so we can control the acute pathological cascade.’
And since the nasal inhaler is small and relatively affordable (the 14-day treatment costs $300), the drug could be applied in a number of useful situations from youth sports to the battleground, where explosions are known to cause head trauma in soldiers and civilians.
It could even be stored in a home first-aid kit or in a coach’s backpack.
‘Concussions aren’t going away,’ Wambach told the Daily Mail. ‘These things are going to occur. Now you could actually have something that helps with the healing process.’
Prevacus is now entering the first phase of human testing, which is a major hurdle for any proposed treatment.
‘The unfortunate thing we’ve seen with a lot of other drugs is that they look really promising in animal studies or even in theory, but don’t turn out to work when you do them in people, or they can be potentially harmful,’ said Dr. Erin Manning, a neurologist at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York. ‘I try not to get too excited until you start seeing how it’s looking in people.’
U.S. Marine David Hawkins of Parker, CO comforts fellow Marine Dan Hall of Littleton, CO as they lift off in a MEDEVAC helicopter September 24, 2010 near Marja, Afghanistan. Both Marines were wounded by an improvised explosive device (IED) while on patrol. Such injuries are known to cause head trauma and other long-term problems, which the makers of Prevacus hope to treat. The nasal inhaler could be used by soldiers on the battle field to reduce the long-term effects of concussions if and when the drug gets FDA approval
What is promising, Manning explained, is that the field of research has been growing ‘exponentially,’ which could help Prevacus researchers to secure the necessary funding from organizations like the NFL, which is currently accepting proposals for innovations in the diagnosis and treatment of traumatic brain injuries. (Prevacus is currently working with the NFL on its proposal)
Dr. Jake VanLandingham is a neurologist who believes he has created the first treatment for concussions, Prevacus, a prescription drug currently in its testing phase
Best of all, the research has the potential for real-life applications, which is something that drew Warner to Prevacus in the first place.
Warner’s oldest son Zack suffered a traumatic brain injury when he was just four months old that ultimately left him blind with intellectual and developmental disabilities. At the time, doctors said he was lucky to live, but added that young Zack would be severely limited as he got older.
Fortunately he ‘exceeded all expectations,’ Warner told the Daily Mail. Zack even graduated high school.
However, Warner has been left wondering how his son’s condition may have been improved by an effective treatment method that could have been administered immediately.
‘What if we had that sitting around in the cabinet with the band-aids and we administered that right away?’ asked Warner, whose charity, Treasure House, is aimed at offering a community living facility for young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities such as Zack.
Kurt Warner holds his daughter Sierra Warner, as he stands with his family (from left), Kade, Jada, Elijah, Sienna, wife Brenda, Zack and Jesse Warner after he announced his retirement from football in 2010. Zack (in black) suffered a traumatic brain injury when he was just four months old that left him blind with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Fortunately he ‘exceeded all expectations,’ Warner told the Daily Mail, and even graduated high school. Still, Warner wonders how Zack’s condition could have been helped with an effective treatment that could have been administered immediately after his injury
‘What if they had [a treatment] in the hospital, instead of just sitting back and waiting to see what degree [the brain damage] was going to go to?’ he continued. ‘What if there was a drug that could help the healing process right now?’
VanLandingham, too, could have benefited from a similar treatment in 1995, when he was knocked unconscious by an unknown assailant. He ultimately suffered three hemorrhages in his brain and nearly died before enduring 18 months of amnesia, seizures and the loss of his sense of smell.
The experience is what prompted him to go to get his PhD in neuroscience.
‘When you can’t remember what you said two minutes before, it’s the most frustrating thing on earth,’ said VanLandingham, who insists Prevacus could have been helpful during is ordeal.
Favre, Warner and Wambach all agree that it is incumbent upon professional sports leagues to take an active role by funding research in this area – not only for the greater good, but because it will benefit their sports directly.
Wambach, the United States’ all-time leading goal scorer, thinks it is incumbent upon professional sports leagues to help fund concussion treatment research
The thinking is that money spent now will ultimately save the leagues larger sums in long-term treatment and settlements connected with head injuries – something the NFL is already dealing with after settling a $1 billion class-action lawsuit with former players.
And for high-risk sports like football – which saw participation at the high school level drop by more than 48,000 between 2009 and 2016 – effective treatments could help stave off extinction.
Pee wee football participation is on the decline, and Favre thinks it’s because of safety issues, such as potential head trauma
‘Money needs to be spent. It’s research and design and it needs to keep happening,’ Wambach said. ‘The more knowledge we can gain, the more we will save in the long run because you’re not reacting to things. You’re being proactive and you are anticipatory.’
‘If it does what [VanLandingham] claims it will do, then I think we’ll all look at football much differently than we have the last five or six years,’ said Favre.
For now, in the absence of any real concussion treatments, Favre believes that the risks of youth football outweigh the rewards. His three grandsons may have his championship pedigree, but the chances of them following his path to the NFL are remote to say the least.
What’s most worrying to Favre is that even without playing decades in the NFL, one can still suffer the same consequences that he currently deals with. That’s why you won’t find him encouraging his eight-year-old grandson to play catch in the back yard.
‘Maybe that’s selfish,’ Favre said. ‘But what are the odds of him becoming the next Brett Favre? What if he plays one year, gets a major concussion, and is never the same.
‘I would feel horrible.’
Favre believes many of his concussions were the result of his head hitting the turf
KEEPING CONCUSSED ATHLETES OFF THE FIELD ISN’T SO EASY
By Alex Raskin, Sports News Editor for DailyMail.com
Despite the medical community’s best intentions, diagnosing concussions remains imprecise.
‘You can get two clinicians and tell them the same story and get two different opinions,’ said Dr. Erin Manning, a neurologist at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York.
Because of that ambiguity, the decision over whether or not to remove an athlete from a game over a possible concussion is difficult. Leagues like the NFL and NHL have designed their own protocols to help identify possible concussions, but those measures are not full proof.
For instance, Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby remained in a playoff game in May of 2017 after crashing head first into the boards. At the time, the NHL’s concussion spotters were not permitted to order him off ice, even though Crosby had recently suffered a previous concussion.
And while erring on the side of caution seems obvious, the decision to remove any player suspected of suffering head trauma could incentivize other athletes to collide with the opposition in an effort to get them into the concussion protocol and off the field of play.
Despite his own history of concussions and the fact that he slid head-first into the boards, Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby did not exit a 2017 playoff game
Far too often it’s athletes and coaches who make these determinations, and in the midst of a game, that can be problematic.
Even for an experienced soccer player like retired USWNT star Abby Wambach, who helps coach her daughter’s youth team, mistakes can be easy to make.
‘There was a situation where one of my girls’ teammates got hit in the face and the first thing that came out of my mouth was, “You’re OK,”‘ Wambach told the Daily Mail.
In retrospect, Wambach knows that was not the right response.
‘Now, that’s the absolutely wrong thing to say because I want to teach our kids, “Oh, am I actually hurt? This is my brain. This is the most important body part I have so I’m not going to take a chance on this and I’m going to take a knee and collect myself. I’m going to let somebody else determine if I’m OK or not.”‘
In addition to her years as America’s top goal scorer, soccer star Abby Wambach has also taken the time to coach youth soccer, where she encourages players to take every precaution to avoid playing with a potential concussion
But that does not mean a physician should have the only say in the matter.
Because concussion protocols are imperfect, it’s incumbent upon players to voice their own concerns, even if it means contradicting doctors and coaches.
In 2009, during a victory over his former team, the St. Louis Rams, then-Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner was sidelined with a concussion.
The former NFL and Super Bowl MVP was ultimately cleared to return before the next game, which to many observers, was the final word on the matter.
‘I remember just not feeling right that whole week,’ Warner told the Daily Mail. It came to Saturday night before our game. I knew I just didn’t feel right. So I was caught in that spot of, “I’m cleared, everybody knows that I’ve been cleared, I practiced all week, and I can play – yet I know personally that I’m not where I want to be. So what decision do I make here?”‘
Warner, who was an established four-time Pro Bowler playing in his final season, opted to sit out against the Tennessee Titans, snapping his streak of 41 consecutive starts.
The Cardinals ultimately lost, 20-17.
Warner suffered a concussion in 2009 while playing for the Arizona Cardinals against his former team, the St. Louis Rams. He was cleared to play the following week, but, he says, he could still feel the lingering effects of his head injury and opted to sit
‘I know people were looking at me like, “I can’t believe you did this. Every game is so important in the NFL,”‘ Warner explained.
Warner is at peace with the decision, but he readily admits it would have been much more difficult to make earlier in his career when he was a fringe NFL player coming off a stint in the Arena League.
‘I think that the biggest thing is that you’re worried if you take yourself off the field, will you ever get back on it,’ Warner said. ‘We often say the greatest ability you can have is reliability – the ability to be on the field and be able to play for your team.’
Warner remembers many occasions when he suspected teammates of playing with head injuries, but at the time, everyone was dismissive of the symptoms and the potential dangers.
Until a comprehensive treatment can be approved for concussions, an athlete’s best bet is to communicate anything and everything to coaches, trainers and parents. Then, together, everyone can agree on the appropriate precautions.
‘Sports, by nature, are risky,’ said Wambach. ‘Things happen. You have to make the decisions that are best for your family. For me, we have a very open dialogue, talking about head injuries and traumas and concussions and what to do if you’re not feeling so well if the ball hit you in the head.’
Warner admits that opting to sit out a game for a concussion would have been harder earlier in his career, when he was a fringe NFL player coming out of the Arena League. ‘I think that the biggest thing is that you’re worried if you take yourself off the field, will you ever get back on it,’ Warner said. ‘We often say the greatest ability you can have is reliability – the ability to be on the field and be able to play for your team’