Phil Sheridan, Philadelphia Inquirer
As an undergraduate at West Chester University in the 1980s, Kevin Guskiewicz spent summers working at Eagles training camp. He even remembers meeting safety Andre Waters a couple of times. Neither could have known how their paths would cross 20-some years later.
Guskiewicz went on to work as an athletic trainer for the Pittsburgh Steelers and is now, as a professor at the University of North Carolina, one of the world’s leading experts on concussions and the long-term damage they cause.
Waters, of course, became one of the tragic examples of that damage after he took his own life in 2006. Waters’ family donated his brain to Boston researchers studying chronic traumatic encephalopathy in former football players. CTE, normally found in much older people, can cause dementia, memory loss, and depression.
The May 2 death of retired linebacker Junior Seau raised the issue again in a dramatic way. At a time when more than 2,000 former players are involved in lawsuits against the NFL seeking damages for its handling of their concussions, the suicide of a 43-year-old, Hall of Fame-bound star is stop-the-presses news.
There is another issue here, though, and it has been overlooked in much of the discussion.
Steroids. Could anabolic steroids and other performance- enhancing drugs, including stimulants, play a role in all this?
Like former Chicago Bears safety Dave Duerson, Seau shot himself in the chest. Duerson did so specifically because he wanted his brain to be intact for study. The researchers in Boston found severe CTE damage. It isn’t clear that Seau had the same intention, but it isn’t much of a leap to think so.
There is no evidence Seau used PEDs. This isn’t about accusing him or anyone else. But the stakes are too high here to pretend PEDs aren’t in the mix when talking about professional football players of the last three decades. Guskiewicz did a confidential survey of retired players two years ago in which about 10 percent admitted using steroids during their careers.
“We haven’t been able to look at it closely,” Guskiewicz said in a phone conversation Friday. “It is now something we ask players who come through the Center [for the Study of Retired Athletes at UNC]. We think it’s important to know.”