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The Sport Needs to Change

Bob Herbert
The New York Times

Professional football has a big, big problem on its hands, and I'm not talking about the lockout that is jeopardizing the 2011 season.

Dave Duerson was once a world-class athlete, a perfect physical specimen whose pro football career included Super Bowl championships with the Chicago Bears and New York Giants. Friends and former teammates would tell you that he was also a bright guy — a graduate of Notre Dame with a degree in economics and, at least for awhile, a successful businessman.

When he shot himself to death in his South Florida home last month, the despondent Duerson, who was 50, fired the bullet into his chest rather than into his head. He did not want to further damage his brain. As he explained in text messages and a handwritten note, the former all-pro safety wanted his brain tissue studied, presumably to determine whether he had been suffering from a devastating degenerative disease that is taking a terrible toll on what appears to be an increasing number of pro football players and other athletes.