Bernstein: Duerson News Won’t Change Anything

By Dan Bernstein–

I wish I could agree with Rick Telander of the Chicago Sun Times. Really.

After working exhaustively on the tragic story of former Bears safety Dave Duerson — his ruined life, meticulously-planned suicide, and the subsequent donation of his brain for study — Telander believes that the ultimate disclosure of chronic traumatic encephalopathy will alter radically the way we think about football.

“There are now two eras in modern football,” he wrote, “before Dave Duerson and after Dave Duerson. Call them B.D. and A.D., if you will.”

Today, researchers at Boston University will announce their findings after examining Duerson’s brain, per his wishes. They will present slides before a large, auditorium audience, pointing at brown-stained areas and explaining what tau proteins are. Judging from the size and scope of the planned proceedings (Duerson’s ex-wife and their four children have been flown in for it), there will be no surprises. It sure looks like Duerson’s self-diagnosis was correct, after he had spent enough hours on panels investigating similarly-afflicted ex-NFL’ers to know the telltale signs.

Bill Dwyre of the Los Angeles Times also expects the story to have a seismic effect on the way we see the game. “He has apparently martyred himself for a cause,” Dwyre stated in a February piece. “And if he properly identified his symptoms…no amount of rationalizing or perseveration on head-injury issues – past or present – will be acceptable. The ticket-buying, TV-watching public, as shallow and oblivious as it can be about anything that disrupts its game-watching and team-worshipping, will not keep funding the future agony of athletes it adored.”

Wanna bet?

My money rides on “shallow and oblivious.”

It’s more than that, truly. There are intelligent, informed people actively deciding to not think about the damage football does, because doing so causes painful, untenable cognitive dissonance.

Since the GQ story “Game Brain” appeared in 2009, chronicling Dr. Bennett Omalu, the discovery of CTE in NFL players and the league’s shameful denials, discussion of the issue on our show has led to direct conversation and extensive correspondence with fans and players, as well as coaches and parents involved at the collegiate, prep and youth levels.

I have heard from high-school coaches who are in ethical knots about sending boys out to begin destroying their brain tissue, particularly those who have read the alarming Purdue University study from the Journal of Neurotrauma finding the damage done by routine, repeated, sub-concussive hits to the heads of high-school players.

But the power of the game’s deep, cultural ties, especially in some areas of the country, overwhelms better judgment. Coaches rationalize by trusting blindly that helmets are sufficiently protective, and they line the kids up for practice.

I have read e-mails from terrified mothers steeling themselves to pick an impossible dinner-table fight, school administrators nervous about potential litigation, and dads deciding to steer talented, athletic sons to golf, largely because of the fall timing.

Far more often, though, I hear things like this: “Dad played, and he looks just fine. We’re a football family in a football town in a football state. So it’s bad for your head – like we didn’t know that? You want to put your kid in a bubble? It’s a tough sport for tough people, and you wouldn’t know anything about that. You want to end football?”

Hardly. I love the NFL, and the violent, spectacular, Sunday tableau of millionaires killing each other to amuse us, and it’s not going anywhere. I just want people to know about the damage football does before allowing their sons or themselves to jump into a cranking meat-grinder.

More importantly and directly – the essence of this, I guess – is that I want them to WANT to know.

One of the ironies of life in the age of modern media is that while more facts are available than ever – information pulsing in a swirl of charged particles zapped directly to our computers, TVs, tablets and phones at light-speed – it’s now easier than ever to choose what we want to hear. We can opt for a news outlet that caters to a certain political bent, sanitizing and shaping stories, sanding away the rough edges of doubt. We can visit websites that sift through things so we are intellectually unchallenged, our long-standing feelings neatly reinforced. The kind of confrontation of ideas necessary for classical dialectic synthesis is bypassed.

Willful ignorance has never been more enabled, and the truth of football’s risks will remain one of its victims, no matter how many demented, broken NFL players are publicized.

It’s understandably easy to look at Duerson’s distressing story, culminating in today’s press conference, and see it as a watershed, shattering whatever matrix has been held in place by history, culture and Americana.

It’s also wrong.

In time, perhaps, the game will be looked at differently. Such large-scale change for something as societally-rooted as football is slow, and generational. It’s just too big to turn so fast, and too strong to want to.

We can try all we might to make Duerson’s bleak death into something inspiring and positive, but it’s hard to see what difference it can make any time soon.

Dwyre’s vision of outraged fans refusing to consume the product is erroneous. “Future agony” will continue be funded fully, no matter what sobering details may emerge today.

Telander is among those calling for football itself to change, taking steps to lessen the amount and severity of head contact by adjusting rules, equipment or both. I assume he expects that the league will act drastically to do so, now.

I do not share that position, however, and can be categorized as one who has found a way to overcome the dissonance by carving out a specific position in favor of honesty and education. In that, I am part of the “problem,” insomuch as I enjoy and appreciate the NFL because of its explosiveness and danger and want it just as it is. Yet it is the opposite of pretending not to know, or avoiding uncomfortable facts. Just come clean on how terrible this great game is, and try to get the word out so informed decisions can be made by players, coaches and parents.

I am an NFL fan – one not blind to the difficult paths to be navigated: the game’s caretakers must find a way to treat inherently self-destructive players humanely, and consumers must build that island of mental comfort from which to watch.

If Dave Duerson is dead because football eventually ate his brain, add him to the lengthening list of casualties, and remember him well for trying to find a last bit of constructive value from an already devastated life.

This is football now, and as it has long been. As it will be.

bernstein 90x130 Bernstein: Duerson News Wont Change Anything

Dan Bernstein

Dan Bernstein has been the co-host of “Boers and Bernstein” since 1999. He joined the station as a reporter/anchor in 1995. The Boers and Bernstein Show airs every weekday from 1PM to 6PM on The Score, 670AM. Read more of Bernstein’s blogs here. Follow him on Twitter @dan_bernstein.
Listen to The Boers and Bernstein Show podcasts >>

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  • Larry Horse's Arse

    What? No blog on Da Boo???

    I hope the picks pan out for the beloved.
    I can’t stand JA, but I have to admit that it seems he did a good job of addressing the needs of the Bears in the draft (just trying to be fair).

  • Producer Joe


    • Craig J. Ries


      Well, I’m not wrapping myself the flag (which, like Bernstein, I’m not a fan of), but I’ll freely admit I’m willing to dance on somebody’s grave now and then.

  • Producer Joe

    your gay!!

  • IAN


    • Murphs Upper-Lip

      He’s spending some time with your gay. What about him?

  • Denver Deadite

    (In an attempt to stay away from world news…)

    Bernstein is probably right: the report on Duerson probably won’t change anything. Which is a shame.

    But talk to far too many players, and they still don’t care about the long term. Whether it’s putting money aside so they’re not broke in a few months (as is happening with the lockout), or whether it’s preventing their brains from turning into pudding in their skulls.

  • Gridiron Assassin

    God bless Dave Duerson’s family and grandkids to come that will never get to meet him. It’s a tragedy.

  • Sophist

    Now that osama’s dead, White Sox are completely out of excuses. Time to turn it around.

  • Gentleman RaRa

    It’s official. White Sox baseball has killed Osama.

    • Jon, Montgomery

      LOL! Nice!

  • Chris in Scottsdale

    Anyone else watching Mets/Phillies last night when the news came down? Creepy.

  • Larry Horse's Arse

    I’m wondering how quickly the conspiracy @sshats will be raising questions because the body was buried at sea? Nothing new under the sun, their forefathers in @sshattery raised cover-up questions when John Wilkes Booth was shot (rather than captured) 146 years ago.

    No one could be more happy than The Donald because this gets him off the news cycle as story #1, that is how the President and Seth Myers carved him a series of new arseholes at the White House Correspondents Dinner.

    • Denver Deadite

      I’m betting Trump is probably miffed. He doesn’t strike me as the type to care about what kind of publicity he gets; he just wants to the center of attention, period.

      Getting some comedic smackdown from Obama? That keeps him in the news.

      Osama bin Laden finally getting his date with the Devil? That puts Trump back on he back page where he belongs.

      Not only that, but the news broke while Celebrity Apprentice was on, meaning that they cut away from that waste of airtime!

    • Spoon

      ” the President and Seth Myers carved him a series of new arseholes at the White House Correspondents Dinner.”

      God that was epic…

  • Beverly Brewmaster

    I’m disappointed in Telander for skirting the real issue: how does this news impact the robots?

    • AT3374

      Don’t worry about Skynet BB . When judgement day hits and the robots take over …oh wait , what was the question ?

      • Chris in Scottsdale

        Skynet’s “self-awareness date” (modified according to T3 canon) actually just passed a couple weeks ago. Doesn’t that mean we’re safe?

  • meesohawnee

    I just had fun pasting a white sox logo over the face of bin lad on the front page of the sun times. …is it officially fun bad yet?

    • bronzo

      No…. but it’s close.

      The world is a better place today.

      • Larry Horse's Arse

        Very well-said bronzo, very well-said.

        I lost two school-mates that day (one a NYFD Lt. and the other a bond-trader with Cantor Fitzgerald on the 103rd floor).

        It has bothered me that the SOB could not be found…until now!!!!

        The headline of the NY Daily News is: Rot In Hell. Amen to that too.

      • bronzo

        Thanks Larry… yeah I was working on the trading floor of the CBOT that day and my wife was working upsatirs at a clearing firm and pregnant with our second child. I remember rushing upstairs to get her and get both of us on tain home that day.

        May he rot in hell !!

      • big time sucker

        who would have thunk it he was chillin in a suburb!!! Abbottabad is like naperville in pakistan, he was in essentially a mansion. the news made it seem like it was straight out of Scarface, chillin in a mansion, probably high on opiates, the raid occurs he fights back,”say hello to my li’l freind” gets shot, dead.

  • The Dry Aged Remains Of Gerald R. Ford

    So what does the death of Bin Laden mean for Taliban basketball>

  • Beard Man

    Well said. One of the reasons people love the NFL is because these ridiculously strong, hyper-fast athletes beat their brains in for 60 minutes every week. It’s exciting precisely because it’s dangerous. I’m as big of a football fan as there can be, but I also choose not to bury my head in the sand when it comes to safety issues. It’s important to understand the risks involved, especially if it’s an issue of letting your son play football or not. I don’t have kids, but I hope to some day. When the time comes I will probably take the Archie Manning route and have my kids play flag football to understand the nuances of the game if they’re interested in playing at all, and then when it comes time for high school I’ll explain the risks at an age when they’re old enough to understand them; and make that decision together. I hope Duerson didn’t martyr himself in vain, but like Dan wrote, I fear that he did despite the finding of signs of CTE in his brain.

  • big time sucker

    not to change the topic, but has anybody more annoyling cashed in from the stanley cup win from last year more than jim corneilson. the guy is anthem singing everywhere nowadays, bears games, csn awards, ralleys and now tonights bulls game!!! given the whole bin laden thing, i am cool with it, but if this becomes a “throughout the playoffs” thing, it will get sooooooooooooooooooo old sooooooooooooooooooooo fast

    • Larry Horse's Arse

      reminds me of when they used to trot out Michael Buffer to every frickin’ event to say “Let’s get ready to rumble.”
      What was the half-life of that, 18 months?


    When Dave Duerson died a few months ago, it was very numbing and very unfortunate to learn not only how he died, but what a mess his personal & business life had become prior to his passing. I’m not sure the final results of the Boston University study of Dave’s brain will change anything either.

    Moving ahead, I’m looking forward to Game 1 of Hawks/Bulls at United Center, complete with Jim Cornelison’s hand-gesturing National Anthem tonight. I’m not so sure TNT will air the Anthem come 7p or so, even though it seems only appropriate with the Patriotism associated with last night’s blockbuster news of Osama bin Laden’s death and the chants of “USA! USA!” at the Mets/Phillies’ game in Philadelphia and outside the White House. As for the game itself, any chance Atlanta had of winning this series appears to be shot with Kirk Hinrich sidelined with a hamstring injury likely for the whole series. With that in mind, I wouldn’t be shocked if the Bulls sweep the Hawks in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, let alone finish the job in 5 games. The Hawks have no answer at all for Derrick Rose, and I think he’s going to have a monster series starting tonight.

  • meesohawnee

    Im missing all the joy with Bin Laden. yea makes for a great symbolic story.. I few good chicago baseball jokes. .. Until you put some cuffs on the financial terrorists with names like Blankfein,Pandit,Dimon, Moe Larry Curly who inflict greater wounds on the country though not as visual,.. Its not a safer place.

  • Denver Deadite

    And, not surprisingly, the results confirmed that Duerson had several areas of brown brain when he died.

    I’d never seen slides from these cases before. It really is striking; it looks like cauliflower that’s gone rotten.


    Guys didn’t used to get this CTE. Size of players and speed must be a factor.
    That doesn’t explain the trauma in high school students (boy, this is a sad topic).
    Everyone involved needs to, at least, get rid of HGH.

    I, honestly, do not care how many tattoos a lineman has in college. Unless he’s running some kind of criminal enterprise to fund them, who cares? You might as well attack the players who don’t graduate and don’t go on to the NFL. You wouldn’t.

    • Denver Deadite

      I’m not really sure we can say that CTE is a new thing. There was simply no way to diagnose it until recently.

      I’m betting it’s more that guys were simply never heard of again if they the game due to brain damage. Much like pitchers would drop off the face of the earth after they got hurt before Tommy John surgery came along.

      • SPAULDING!

        Yeah. I’m just extrapolating on the guys who do not get it. Genetics? Compounding factors?

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