Is the game Junior Seau loved responsible for his death?

Up w/ Chris Hayes - MSNBC—January 26, 2013

Dr. Teena Shetty, a neurologist at Hospital for Special Surgery and team consulting doctor for the New York Giants, appeared as part of a panel on the show Up w/ Chris Hayes. On the show the panelists discussed the health of concussed NFL players.

HAYES: Last spring, NFL all-pro linebacker, Junior Seau, committed suicide by shooting himself in the chest, leaving his brain intact. Two weeks ago, Seau was brain tested positive for chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE, a brain disease with symptoms may include depression and aggressive behavior and is caused by repeated hits to the head.

I want to let viewers know that the study, so far, from the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health finds that deaths from neurodegenerative causes for retired players are three times higher than the general population.

Teena. What do we know now about the risks of a career playing football and getting -- sustaining repeated head trauma?

SHETTY: We know that football is a sport which lends itself to trauma, unfortunately. So, we know that we have to proceed with a lot of caution with these players who are so vulnerable to the effects of trauma. We know head trauma can cause concussion, and we know that concussion is an alteration in mental status which can cause a variety of neurologic symptoms and psychiatric symptoms as well.

HAYES: One of the things I think that`s hard for us to track is when did we start to know this? How -- what is the timeframe in which the risks have become clear and have been established by the literature? And, where is the literature headed in terms of just what level of injury is acceptable risk?

SHETTY: So, there`s sort of two levels to that question. One is the short-term effects of concussion, which are concerning and the other which is becoming increasingly more present in today`s world is the long-term effects of concussion and the long-term effects of cumulative brain injuries so one concussion after another.And, the research and literature is both taking direction of trying to find out which factors around concussion are causing long-term problems.

HAYES: Is it just concussions? I mean, I`ve seen some literature to suggest that subconcussive small impacts over a period of time might also produce some of these symptoms long-term.

SHETTY: That is definitely possible. I would say if concussions are managed correctly, we believe that we can safeguard the brains of these players.

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HAYES: Yes. And so -- I mean, part of the changing -- to get to this point of independence, part of it is changing that culture, right? I mean.

SHETTY: Exactly. And that, I would argue it`s radically changed since that time, and even since the time since Junior Seau was playing, doctors are cognizant of the risks to athletes and football players from football and other sports in which they`re vulnerable to concussion.

On the physician's role of keeping a hit count on football players:

SHETTY: The team physician`s role is to keep a hit count. We really look at each case very individually. And one of the important things to remember is that each person`s brain is obviously different. So each person`s brain has a distinct reaction to a concussion, which may be less or more severe than another player`s, therefore, we have to exercise the same amount of caution amongst everyone. When we see a player, we take into account how many concussions they`ve had in the past, how many of those were associated with loss of concussion, how severe the concussions were, how long it took them to recover from the previous concussions, and we evaluate that and make recommendations based on those factors, in addition to many other factors.

On the changing culture of the NFL and advertisers toward the concern for players:

HAYES: This gets to the final point. There`s this amazing disjuncture that the league is more and more successful in terms of the dollars it produces, amount of people that watch it, TV deals they strike, the amount of people that play it and this growing threat to that success in the growing body of knowledge about what it has done to players who have played, what it`s doing to players now, the lawsuits that are mounting and the publicity. And the question is, when do those two lines intersect?

SHETTY: I do believe the culture is changing somewhat, slowly but surely. We`ve seen stricter concussion protocols, coaches and trainers change tremendously. We`ve seen lots of research being done. The NFL has given a lot of financial help to research being done in this area or they`re offering it.

View the video of the panel discussion at msnbc.com (part 1) (part 2).

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