A Life-and-Death Puzzle
There's a video on YouTube that shows Hipple being torpedoed so hard he loses his helmet, and his unprotected head bounces several times. It's scarily easy, as you watch it, to imagine Hipple ending up like former Atlanta Falcons safety Ray Easterling, who shot himself in April while suffering from dementia and depression. An autopsy found evidence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease caused by repeated head injuries. Former San Diego Chargers linebacker Junior Seau shot himself just two weeks later--like Easterling and former Chicago Bear Dave Duerson last year, in the chest rather than the head. In a final text message, Duerson asked his family to send his brain to a research group based at Boston University that studies CTE; they found damage in his.
Easterling's widow is continuing to pursue the class action suit he filed against the NFL, claiming that the league concealed links between playing football and suffering brain injuries. His and others' deaths--and lawsuits--are causing ripples everywhere from high school football and hockey teams to soccer programs. But as Hipple sees it, the trouble began long ago.
As outreach specialist for the U-M Depression Center, Hipple works in a windowless office at the East Medical Campus on Plymouth Rd. "There is a group of guinea pigs who were taught the game of football and given a really, really hard object on their heads, called a helmet, to protect their heads," he says. "But it turned out to be a better weapon than just protection, and nobody told them what the effects of banging your head every day would be ... There wasn't much research being done by the NFL, or by the helmet company, or by anybody else."